SAO PAULO — Midfielder Cicero came off the bench to score in the 83rd minute and Brazil’s Gremio beat Argentina’s Lanus 1-0 on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final in Porto Alegre.
If the Southern Brazilian team holds off the Argentinians in Buenos Aires in the La Fortaleza stadium next Wednesday they will win their third South American crown. The last was in 1995.
Modest and suburban Lanus is in its first final. If they beat Gremio by a one-goal difference in the second leg, extra time will be played. If that difference persists, there will be a penalty shootout.
The Argentinians had the best opportunities in the first half, forcing Gremio goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe to make two impressive saves.
The Brazilians dominated in the second half, but struggled to get close to goalkeeper Andrada.
So coach Renato Portaluppi decided to substitute striker Lucas Barrios with little known Jael and defensive midfielder Jailson with Cicero, who has barely played for Gremio.
When local fans started getting impatient, the winning goal came after Jael headed the ball on the edge of the box and Cicero appeared to put it in the back of the net.
“In moments like this you don’t know whether you should cry or not,” Cicero said. “I knew I had not come here for no reason.”
In the second leg Gremio will resent the absence of their Argentinian defender Walter Kannemann, who got suspended after a yellow card.
The same will happen to Lanus defender Diego Braghieri, who left the Arena Gremio in tears for his absence in the decider.
“We reversed results that were far worse than this,” Braghieri said. “In the first half we managed to hold them quite well. Then they came at us. They have a great team.”
Despite their victory, Gremio players left the pitch upset after the referee refused to allow a penalty on Jael in the dying moments of the match.
Portaluppi, universally known as Renato Gaucho, said that the video assistant refereeing (VAR) authorized by South America’s confederation Conmebol was useless in the first leg of the final.
“I ask Conmebol: why didn’t they use VAR? We had a clear penalty and that could have made all the difference in this final. Even Stevie Wonder saw it was a penalty here,” an angry Portaluppi said. “I hope the refereeing in Argentina is very different.”
Lanus coach Jorge Almiron said his team lost “in a rebound, an isolated moment” from Gremio.
“We haven’t won away matches since round of 16, but this final is open,” he said.
Lanus fans were also outraged at the end of the match, but not with the referee.
A Gremio ballboy ran after goalkeeper Andrada and threatened to kick him near the end of the match as the Lanus player prepared to take a goal kick.
“We still have a match at home,” midfielder Roman Martinez. “It won’t be easy for them in La Fortaleza.”