Aguirre delighted with Penarol success

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.

'CULTURAL THING'

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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