Colombia’s Atletico Nacional will aim to reach their second continental final this year as they entertain Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno in the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana on Thursday in Medellin.
The current Copa Libertadores champions go into the game at the Atanasio Giradot Stadium in the continents’ Europa League equivalent with a slight advantage having secured an away goal in the 1-1 draw in Asunsion.
With the Colombians sweeping the boards in a record-breaking season, having already secured four trophies, “Los Verdolagas” will be confident of securing safe passage to the final of South America’s second-tier football championship.
“We want to win everything we play, we have a team for that and we know that we are very strong , ” said star striker Miguel Angel Borja, who will miss the game having been sent off in the first leg.
Coach Reinaldo Rueda’s biggest selection decision will be how to replace the tournaments joint-leading goalscorer Borja, with Argentine Ezequiel Rescaldani expected to get the nod to lead the attack.
“We have been working with Ezequiel. We hope he has a good game, which complements us well and that he can bring us his full capacity,” said the coach while briefing local media.
Having sold star players such as Sebastian Perez, Alexander Mejia, Davinson Sanchez and Marlos Moreno since the Copa Libertadores victory, Rueda will be looking for the old guard of Franco Armani, Alexis Henriquez and Farid Diaz to provide the leadership to reach a first Sudamericana final since 2014.
So far in 2016, the “Paisa” outfit played eleven international matches at home, seven in the Copa Libertadores and four in Sudamericana yielding ten wins and a draw.
Meanwhile, Cerro Porteno who have won 31 Premier Division titles in Paraguay will fear little as they travel to Colombia having already knocked out defending champions Independiente Santa Fe from Bogota and Nacional’s city rivals Independiente Medellin in the competition.
“We have to come and try to play a great game and qualify . The group is very good and totally committed , ” said coach Gustavo Florentin.
The Paraguayan’s will hope stars such as Cecilio Dominguez, Pablo Velasquez, and Rodrigo Rojas provide them with a platform to upset the home team and give them the opportunity to win their first international trophy against Chapecoense of Brazil who lie in wait in the final.
Former Argentine footballer and fan of Cerro, Hernan Diaz this week claimed that it is certainly not an insurmountable task and indeed Cerro are bigger club than their Colombian rivals.
” I do not think we have to use the word feat if Cerro wins because Cerro is a bigger club than Atletico Nacional” said Diaz to AM780 Asuncion.
15-time Colombian League winners Nacional have in many ways been victims of their own success recently with a mounting fixture list.
Having secured the Colombian Cup last week, this game comes as they begin preparations for the league play-offs with mouth watering tie with bitter rivals Millonarios from Bogota beckoning.
Reinado Rueda’s side will then travel to Japan in mid-December to represent South America in the Club World Cup.
The volume of games has already prompted the Colombian league to announce three different calendars for the play-offs to accommodate the all-conquering Medellin outfit.
Rueda is fully aware that that Cerro Porteno will be looking to take full advantage of their busy schedule but is optimistic that his side can finish the job and continue with league preparations.
“The idea is to resolve the game against Cerro in 90 minutes,” said Rueda.
Nacional has never lost to Cerro Porteño: they have faced each other five times, four in the Copa Libertadores and one in the Copa Sudamericana with two wins for the Colombian side and three draws.