1682122472 Alianza Lima breaks the curse of 30 games without a

Alianza Lima breaks the curse of 30 games without a win, the worst streak in Copa Libertadores history

Pablo Sabbag celebrates his goal with his teammates this Thursday.Pablo Sabbag celebrates his goal with his teammates this Thursday. Jorge Saenz (AP)

A club anchored in a district known as La Victoria had gone 30 games without a win in South America’s most competitive club tournament. A club used to waiting: it remained without a championship for 18 years. But above all, a club shaken by tragedy: in 1987 he lost his team in a plane crash. The sea of ​​Ventanilla swallowed him up. In its 122-year history, Alianza Lima has known brief joys and enduring bitterness. His followers are well aware of this. But he’s also suffered from a condition that didn’t do him justice over the last decade: he’s been immensely in Peru and found himself eclipsed in the Copa Libertadores every summer.

Since beating Uruguay’s Nacional 1-0 on 27 March 2012, Alianza Lima have drawn six and lost 24 in the league. With every game, the wound deepened. Denying the Libertadores more than one new opportunity to change ended in torture. Until this Thursday at Defensores del Chaco in Asunción, when after 4,055 days the curse was broken and they won 2-1. And against what rival: Libertad, the leader of Paraguayan football, a team that had lost only once that year and was preceded by the feat of beating Atlético Mineiro in Belo Horizonte.

This Alianza Lima 2023 version didn’t want to settle for being the current two-time champions of Peruvian football. He prepared himself to escape this spell. He signed two defenders with a Bundesliga past: Argentina’s Santiago García and Carlos Zambrano, a brave defender who, when he doesn’t raise his elbows, is impeccable. He signed the Peru team’s 10, Christian Cueva, who will have a reserved spot on the bench until he is fit again; and Gabriel Costa, a Uruguayan nationalized Peruvian who was a winger for Chile’s Colo Colo a few months ago. He also signed two Colombians: Andrés Rifle Andrade, a midfielder who once shone in Mexico’s Americas, and Pablo Sabbag, a Barranquilla forward of Syrian origin who had played alternately in the Portuguese and Argentinian leagues.

Three of those mentioned did not jump onto the grass of the Defensores del Chaco. García injured himself while warming up, Cueva is not yet in the optimal football rhythm and Costa had a muscle problem. And yet he did it. The reason is that everyone feels part of a team, even the most questioned supporting cast like Aldair Rodríguez, a very few-goal attacker who made headlines last year for stealing a River Plate defender’s shin- and broken fibula. It was Rodríguez who recaptured his opponent early in the second half thanks to a remote pass from Rifle Andrade, breaking into the Paraguayan area and being defined as a billiards player in a corner.

Six minutes later, Aldair himself used a ball to set the second with a bitten shot. Almost a thousand Alianza supporters, who had flown in from Peru and arrived overland from Argentina, broke out in the stadium. His voice resonated like an echo among the few local fans. But Argentine referee Facundo Tello went to VAR and annulled it over an alleged foul by defender Pablo Míguez. Immediately, Alianza Lima coach Guillermo Salas put his fingers to his temple and emulated Ricardo Gareca, the Argentinian who spearheaded Peru’s return to the World Cup after 36 years. You had to keep a cool head.

After all, an eleven-year-old horror film deserves its share of suspense. Minutes later, Libertad coach Daniel Garnero fielded two posts with 80 years of experience: forward Roque Santa Cruz (41) and Óscar Tacuara Cardozo (39), two old foxes who shone in their youth. The motto was clear: If it hadn’t been possible from below, with control of the ball, maybe from above, with a header. The Allianz defense was not intimidated, especially goalkeeper Ángelo Campos, who had drowned out several goals scorers until then.

Amidst that uncertainty, the visitors put on a not-so-remarkable game and the ball reached Pablo Sabbag’s left foot, which hit it first, giving it a parabola very similar to the goals seen – and envied – in the Premier League. Alianza’s bench hugged wildly, and so did half of Peru.

Referee Facundo Tello, determined to stand out in this story, gave six minutes of extra time. At 91 it worked: Míguez’s hand and a penalty. The Tacuara Cardozo is debuffed with an unassailable missile. Due to the delay, Tello gave up an extra two minutes, which is not for the faint of heart. But Alianza Lima knew how to deal with it and resisted the crowning of a historic night. In the TV show, the chants of the Asuncion Alliance were filtered almost as a justification. Alianza Lima, the owner of the most shameful series in the Copa Libertadores, tops Group G by four points, along with 2022 runners-up Atlético Paranaense. It’s always dawning.

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