Belo Horizonte (Brazil) (AFP) – Defending champions Palmeiras booked their place in the final of the Copa Libertadores on Tuesday, securing a battling 1-1 against Brazilian rivals Atletico Mineiro to advance on away goals.
A second-half equaliser from winger Dudu cancelled out Atletico Mineiro’s opener from Chilean international Eduardo Silva to send Palmeiras through to the November 27 final of South American club football’s showpiece tournament.
After the first leg in Sao Paulo ended 0-0 last week, Atletico Mineiro appeared poised to make home advantage count in Tuesday’s return leg at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium.
But it was Palmeiras who came closest to scoring in a dour first half, the striker springing the offside trap in the second minute to test Atletico goalkeeper Everson with a fierce strike.
Atletico’s best chance came on 25 minutes when Joaquin Piquerez latched on to a long ball forward and sent a shot whistling past the post.
The encounter exploded into life in the second half however with Atletico’s former Brazil international striker Hulk forcing a fine save from Weverton.
At the other end, a swift Palmeiras counter-attack saw Everson rescue Atletico once again from Rony’s well-struck effort.
The opening goal came on 52 minutes, when Jair found space down the right flank and crossed into the six-yard area for Vargas to head home for 1-0.
The goal heralded a period of dominance for Atletico, and Vargas missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 on 56 minutes, playing a deft 1-2 to split the Palmeiras defence only to shoot wide.
Three minutes later Palmeiras almost grabbed an equaliser, with Rony capitalising on a defensive lapse by Nathan Da Silva only to drag his shot past the upright.
That was Rony’s final contribution of the game, with the striker departing for 19-year-old Gabriel Veron.
The teenaged substitute made an instant impact, using his pace and athleticism to reach the byline and squaring for Dudu to make it 1-1 on 68 minutes.
That goal proved decisive and Atletico were unable to find the winner against a resolute Palmeiras.
Palmeiras — bidding to become the first back-to-back winners of the Copa Libertadores since Boca Juniors in 2000-2001 — will play either Brazilian club Flamengo or Ecuador’s Barcelona SC in the final.
Flamengo lead that semi-final tie 3-1 heading into Wednesday’s second leg.