MONTEVIDEO - Penarol were once a major
force in the Libertadores Cup, winning South America's biggest
club competition five times from 1960 to 1987, but this year's
run to the final has come as a surprise to coach Diego Aguirre.
"I don't know how to explain it rationally," Aguirre told
Reuters at the Uruguayan club's training ground after the team
he put together in less than six months drew 0-0 with Brazil's
Santos in the first leg last Wednesday.
"It's very difficult to build a team so quickly and be
successful when you play against (national) champions, who bank
on winning the cup.
"It's rational that they should do so, (but) not us, who
just because we're Penarol have to fight for everything.
"But because we believe in ourselves, we overcome
inexplicable things," said the 45-year-old former striker, who
scored the winning goal in the 1987 triumph.
"Seven years had gone by since Penarol last reached the
group phase of the cup, a team with so much history, it's our
10th cup final, a record, that magnifies this," Aguirre added.
Penarol's fans laid on a huge party at the Centenario, scene
of Uruguay's victory in the inaugural World Cup in 1930, with
fireworks and smoke bombs unthinkable at a European Champions
League final where controls are much stricter.
"The fans were always impressive but now we're experiencing
an incredible show (of support)," Aguirre said.
"It's a great motivation but it also fills you with a huge
responsibility and things don't always work out the way you
figured but it's also because you're facing a great team," he
said of Penarol's inability to score against Santos.
Santos, twice winners during Pele's heyday in the 1960s and
the team that snatched the trophy from Penarol in the third
final in 1962, remain favourites to claim a third title in
Wednesday's second leg in Sao Paulo.
The Brazilian side's cause was aided by a lacklustre
performance from Penarol that fell well short of the displays
that had swept the Uruguayans to the final.
Penarol upset holders Internacional of Brazil in the first
knockout round, then beat a very good Universidad Catolica of
Chile in the quarter-final before overcoming 1994 champions
Velez Sarsfield of Argentina on away goals in the semi-finals.
"It's hard to remember finals for their good football, at
least with regard to Penarol. Historically, we always gave 100
percent, all heart to get through," Aguirre said.
However, not even the most fervent Santos fans believe
victory is a foregone conclusion given Penarol's away
performances and the mystique that surrounds Uruguayan
achievements on foreign soil.
"It's incredible, you're part of something important related
to more than half the country and with our traditions. We grew
up with stories of Penarol, it's a cultural thing," he added.
"I talk (to the players) a lot about history, the (black and
yellow striped) shirt and the achievements, things that are true
and have made this club great.
"I think that gives confidence and helps us get out of very
tough situations and overcome obstacles that look impossible."
This Penarol side were hastily put together by Aguirre, who
was discarded after steering the club to the Uruguayan title a
year ago, before being re-hired in December following a poor
start to the Apertura championship under his successor.
"Five of the players have been at Penarol only four
months... I knew the team would go from little to a lot, but
sometimes you're knocked out in the first round and you can't
develop all your potential," Aguirre said.
"We got through and managed to consolidate."
Of his six months out of work, Aguirre added: "There were
some good opportunities from abroad... I had expectations and
imagined something new but along came Penarol (again) with the
chance of this cup which we had qualified for with last year's
championship and I liked the challenge."
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