Olimpia took a massive step toward its fourth Copa Libertadores title with a 2-0 first-leg victory over Atletico Mineiro on Wednesday night.
The Paraguayan giants reaped the benefits of playing the first leg in Asuncion and struck either side of halftime to build a reasonable advantage ahead of the second leg in Belo Horizonte next Wednesday.
Wilson Pittoni claimed the matchball by playing a part in both goals. Pittoni prompted Alejandro Silva's opener with a neat pass after 23 minutes before pouncing against 10-man Mineiro in second half stoppage time to snatch a critical second goal moments before the final whistle.
The margin of victory may have flattered the home side a bit, but it did not prove outlandish given the balance of the game. Both teams leaned on their strengths - Atletico adopted the initiative in possession, Olimpia soaked up pressure and waited for the opportunity to counter - and tried to turn the game in their favor.
Silva ensured Olimpia gained the upper hand with a rather tidy finish to give his side the lead inside the opening half hour. He collected Pittoni's ball in a seemingly safe area, but he then cut inside from the right and located a pocket of space near the top of the penalty area. Atletico - once again showing its occasional defensive frailties - failed to cope with the threat by stepping to the man with the ball and watched Silva direct his left-footed effort inside the post.
The breakthrough allowed the home side to dictate its preferred modus operandi - limit Atletico to meaningless possession and then strike quickly when opportunities emerged - and prompted Cuca to withdraw Luan and Ronaldinho shortly after the hour mark in a bid to alter the calculus. Those measures did not create the desired effect, though the visitors looked on course for an acceptable defeat until the waning stages.
Atletico incurred a series of setbacks in the final 10 minutes that could exact significant costs ahead of the return leg. Marcos Rocha (caution accumulation) and Richarlyson (second bookable offense) received yellow cards to rule them out of the final. Pittoni then compounded the misery when he grabbed the second from a set piece to double Olimpia's margin of victory.
Pittoni's late goal increases the magnitude of the task ahead of Atletico in the second leg. It is not beyond the scope to post a 2-0 result on home soil (the second leg against Newell's Old Boys in the semifinals ended in that same scoreline), but Atletico must find a way to cope with Olimpia's robust approach more deftly and create chances in possession more frequently in order to repeat that feat.
Ronaldinho and his teammates have conjured similarly difficult escapes to reach this juncture of the competition. Now they must dig deep once more to overturn this deficit and secure their first Copa Libertadores title in dramatic fashion next week.