By Rupert Fryer
They say winning for the first time is always the best feeling.
Ask Corinthians, who saw off Boca Juniors in 2012 to finally shed their 100-year-old hoodoo.
And after Atletico Mineiro’s dramatic Copa Libertadores victory over Olimpia last night, you can ask coach Cuca, who, as Matias Gimenez’s penalty flew back off the the woodwork, fell to the floor, burying his face in the grass, tears streaming onto the turf below.
The 50-year-old mastermind of this club’s success story had once again spent the entire shootout on his knees on the touchline, looking to the heavens, begging for divine intervention to bring the Galo its first ever Libertadores title.
“Today we’ve changed the history of the club. Atletico have become a lucky team and today, I too was lucky,” cried an emotional Cuca.
So too can you ask Jo, whose goal shortly after the break set his side on their way to yet another two-goal comeback – repeating their semi-final feat against Gerardo Martino’s Newell’s Old Boys; or Leo Silva, whose looped header dropped into the net with just three minutes remaining to rescue his side.
Ask Bernard, who, according to his agent, can now bid his club the ‘perfect farewell’. “I do not know what will happen to me from tomorrow,” he said at full time, battered, bruised and crippled with cramp. “If I stay or not, I have made it clear that I wanted to leave here with a big title, so I have fulfilled my goal.”
You can also ask the eight million Atletico Mineiro fans, the majority of whom joined their coach on the ground, no matter where they were watching. They knew they were capable. All week they had been telling one another: “Yes we CAM”. With just three minutes remaining, the game seemingly sneaking away from them, still they scre amed. Still they sang. Still they believed.
“Atletico-MG are Libertadores champions,” Globo reminded them all last night. “Read, reread, say, repeat, say it into the mirror to see if you believe. Believe. Always Believe!” Twenty thousand quickly converged on Praca Sete de Setembro and told themselves over and over again.
And of course, ask Ronaldinho. The former World Player of the Year last night joined a select club of those to have lifted both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores – and joined an even more exclusive list alongside Dida, Cafu and Roque Junior, to have won both competitions and a World Cup to boot.
“Everyone said that Jo and I were finished and that my time was over. Let them talk now,” shot back an emotional and vindicated Ronaldinho last night. “This is the reason why I returned to Brazil. This is the one trophy that was still missing.”
It’s not anymore. And now he, and the rest of the club, will loo k to another first in a few months’ time as they dream of beating Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to the Club World Cup.
They’ll face a colossal task. But they’ll believe. And regardless of the end result, they’ll never forget their first time.
Follow Rupert Fryer on