By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In what Grêmio head coach Renato Portaluppi was calling the “game of the year”, last night (September 20th) at Arena do Grêmio in Porto Alegre, Rio’s Botafogo was eliminated from the 2017 Copa Libertadores, losing 1-0 to Grêmio in the second and deciding leg of the semifinals.
With the win, Grêmio earns one of the final four spots in the Copa Libertadores semifinals to be played in late October.
Overall, Botafogo had been playing well entering last night’s game, going undefeated for four games and conceding only one goal in that stretch.
On the other hand, Grêmio had won only one of its last seven games but hoped to receive a boost last night from the home crowd and the return of key players Pedro Geromel and Luan.
Surprisingly, Botafogo looked the crisper club on offense to start the game. The Fogão were a step ahead of Grêmio throughout the period and would keep Grêmio keeper Marcelo Grohe very busy.
But, Grohe would prove up to the task turning away several great shots from the Fogão, including a couple of rockets from Victor Luis and Bruno Silva. Thanks to Grohe’s great defense, the period would end 0-0 despite Botafogo controlling the ball for most of the period.
With the fifty thousand plus fans urging them on, Grêmio started the second half determined to score. Only one minute in, it looked like a Michel header would finally get the home team on the scoreboard, but an incredible save off the fingertips of a leaping Gatito denied Grêmio its best chance of the night up to that point.
But, Grêmio would not miss on its next great chance ten minutes later. A spectacular far post cross from Edílson led to a perfect Lucas Barrios header that ricocheted off the hands of Gatito and in for the 1-0 lead.
As the period wound down, Botafogo were unable to mount any serious scoring chances. After four minutes of stoppage, Grêmio’s defense was able to hold on to seal the 1-0 win sending the stadium into a frenzy.
With the loss, Botafogo’s impressive run in the Copa Libertadores comes to an end. Grêmio, the only Brazilian team left in the tournament, will now advance to the semifinals to play Ecuadorian club Barcelona in late October.
Barcelona also won 1-0, defeating Brazilian club Santos in the night’s other semifinal.
Widely regarded as one of the most prestigious football (soccer) tournaments in the world, CONMEBOL’s (South American Football Confederation) Copa Libertadores features the best football clubs in South America competing in a round-robin tournament until a champion is crowned in November.