ASUNCION (Reuters) - Three-times South American champions Olimpia stand between Atletico Mineiro and mercurial playmaker Ronaldinho winning their first Libertadores Cup when they meet in the first leg of the final on Wednesday.
The Paraguayans, whose coach Ever Almeida was in goal for their last two victories in the region’s top club competition in 1990 and 2002, have top scorer Juan Manuel Salgueiro back from suspension after he missed the semi-final.
Atletico visit the 40,000-capacity Defensores del Chaco cauldron in Asuncion without young Brazil forward Bernard, whose booking in the semi-final victory over Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina earned him a ban, with Guilherme set to step in.
However, centre back Rever returns after missing both legs of the semi-final through suspension with veteran former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva, like team mate Ronaldinho a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, stepping down.
“We’re training hard for these two matches. There is nothing greater than the desire to carry the ‘Galo’ (Atletico’s nickname rooster) to the title,” Ronaldinho said.
“The Libertadores is a competition I haven’t won yet so it’s very important to me,” added Ronaldinho, who is looking to add the South American club crown to the European Champions League medal he won with Barcelona in 2006.
Atletico set themselves up for Wednesday’s match with a 1-0 win at last year’s Libertadores Cup winners Corinthians in Sao Paulo in the Brazilian championship at the weekend.
“We must bring a good result back from Paraguay. If we get a draw that will be good and a victory excellent,” the Brazilian team’s coach Cuca told reporters
Olimpia, who reached their seventh final by eliminating Independiente Santa Fe of Colombia, have to decide between Uruguayan Alejandro Silva and Ricardo Mazacotte in the attacking midfield role.
“We’re a step away from our dream. We’re going to face very tough rivals with impressive players like Ronaldinho but we have a very united team,” said Olimpia defender Nelson Benitez.
“We must make the most of our good run,” he added.
The region’s governing body CONMEBOL ruled that Atletico would stage the second leg July 24 at the Mineirao, the newly refurbished World Cup stadium in Belo Horizonte, instead of their regular home ground, the Independencia.
They are unbeaten in more than 30 home matches at the Independencia but it only holds 23,000 which is below the minimum capacity required by the competition regulations.
Writing by Rex Gowar in London; editing by Ken Ferris