By Louis Smith at the General Pablo Rojas stadium.
Saturday afternoon saw Cerro Porteño host bitter rivals Olimpia in Asuncion, in the latest chapter of the Paraguayan Superclásico.
In the days leading up to the game, all the talk around the city was focused on the ‘Clasico’ with every taxi driver and waiter, eagerly anticipating the duel.
Cerro Porteno came into the game fighting for the Apertura title, whilst Olimpia hoped to improve on a disappointing start to 2023.
League leaders, Libertad beat Sportivo Trinidense 2-1 on Friday evening, extending their lead at the top to six points meaning Cerro needed a victory to close the gap at the top.
Outside the ground, Cerro fans gathered to create an atmosphere with firecrackers and pyros as kick-off drew ever closer. This was a huge difference from Monday night at the Estadio Defensores del Chaco where on a wet night, there was barely a sole in site the Cerro fans in the North stand made a great deal of noise despite limited numbers as they saw off Resistencia in an exciting 2-1 affair.
The two powerhouses of Paraguayan football were greeted onto the field with more fireworks and a raucous crowd, featuring a banner of the club colours, as the talking was done, it was time for the football to take centre stage.
The first big moment of the match came inside the opening nine minutes when Fernando Cardozo rugby tackled Alberto Espinola from a corner kick. This went undetected by almost everybody inside the ground, it was only when VAR intervened and sent referee Carlos Paul Benitez to look at the pitch side monitor, which left him no option but to award a penalty to the home side.
After some shoving and pushing, Claudio Aquino finally stepped up and confidently place the ball past Gaston Olveira in the Olimpia goal.
Ten minutes later, Olimpia was back on level terms when a Hugo Fernandez free kick saw a rare error from the usually reliable Jean.
Chances were few and far between, but a wonderful strike from Angel Cardozo forced Olveira into a save, leading to an acrobatic clearance from Olimpia captain, Richard Ortiz, which saw Espinola jump to head the ball and loop it over the goalkeeper, giving Cerro the lead once more.
Just before the halftime break, Ortiz hit a glorious volley and looked like it was heading for the top corner, until Jean redeemed himself from his earlier mistake by tipping the ball over the crossbar, with a remarkable save, to ensure the hosts went into the half-time break in the lead.
The second half started rather quietly with nothing much happening, the first chance came from a free kick when Alejandro Silva forced Jean into a save from a long-range free kick.
The away side continued to push for a leveller, but Diego Torres was denied by Jean before a glorious chance for Fernandez to add a second saw him blast his shot way over the crossbar.
Then a huge turning point in the game after another VAR intervention saw Cerro reduced to ten men after Angel Cardoza put in a nasty tackle on Argentine Facundo Bruera, meaning El Ciclón had to play just over 20 minutes with a man less.
It looked like the hosts were going to hang on for an important three points until in the dying embers of the game, the ball bounced perfectly just outside the edge of the box to 21-year-old Hugo Quintana – who has reportedly been tracked by clubs in Europe, Quintana produced a Steven Gerrard like volley to snatch a point for Olimpia, turning the La Nueva Olla into a library – a stark contrast to what the stadium was moments earlier.
The away side had a glorious chance to win the tie, but Jean stood firm to deny Juan Romero and the fiery affair ended all square.
In truth, the point did no good for anyone, Cerro’s title hopes look far-fetched and Olimpia lie way off the pace, but El Decano [Olimpia] will take great satisfaction in putting a dent in El Ciclón [Cerro] ambitions of a first league triumph since the 2021 Clausura.