In July 2008, LDU Quito of Ecuador overcame Fluminense of Brazil to win their first-ever Libertadores Cup – and 17 months later, against the same opposition and in a similar manner, they won the continent’s second-most important club prize.
Known more informally as Liga de Quito, LDU have now established themselves as regional heavyweights, a process that was given a huge kick-start in 1997 when they inaugurated their impressive Casa Blanca stadium – the scene of some crushing victories in this campaign.
Being situated some 2,800 metres above sea level gives LDU an undeniable home advantage against unacclimatised opposition, though much depends on the intelligence of the visiting team.
Quarter-final visitors Velez Sarsfield are coached by Ricardo Gareca, who has considerable experience of the conditions, and without a slack piece of marking at a set-piece the Argentinian side may not have gone down 2-1 in Quito, and 3-2 on aggregate. Gareca ensured his team did the key thing for visitors at altitude: stay compact. Uruguay’s River Plate, an attack-minded team who took an understrength side to Ecuador, did not and went down 7-0 in their semi-final.
Fluminense made the same mistake in the first leg of the Final, when they were beaten 5-1 despite taking the lead after 23 seconds.
The Rio side’s coach Cuca, who plotted a remarkable escape from what had seemed certain relegation to the Brazilian second division, settled on a bold 3-5-2 formation in which both wing-backs were thrown forward. However, at altitude, it left too much space behind them and LDU took full advantage. Star midfielder Edison Mendez helped himself to a superb hat-trick, set up substitute Franklin Salas for the fourth and the veteran Ulises De la Cruz completed the rout with a long-range special in injury time.
That fifth goal started to look increasingly important when De la Cruz was harshly sent off early in the second leg. Fluminense had already pulled one goal back – a deflected shot from midfielder Diguinho – and, with a big crowd in the Maracana believing in miracles, Flu turned the screw.
There were more goals either side of half-time, a guided finish from captain and inspirational centre-forward Fred, and defender Gum’s header from a corner.
In the 2008 Libertadores Final, Fluminense had hauled back a first-leg lead only to lose on penalties and now they had 15 minutes to find another goal and force extra time. But LDU took the rhythm out of the game and Fluminense lost their heads – especially Fred, who was sent off by referee Carlos Amarilla. With him went Flu’s chances, even though LDU finished with nine men after Jairo Campos also saw red as the trophy went to Ecuador for the first time in its eight-year history.