Chapecoense, Cerro Porteno fighting to reach new heights in Sudamericana

It is all square after the first leg of the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana, South America's Europa League equivalent.

Both games finished 1-1, and there is now a three week wait for the return matches, when one of two radically different scenarios could emerge.

The final could be between two teams entitled to feel somewhat blase about this competition, since they have recently claimed the Copa Libertadores -- the Champions League equivalent and by some distance the continent's most prestigious club title.

San Lorenzo of Argentina won the Libertadores in 2013. Colombia's Atletico Nacional lifted the trophy as recently as July, and are preparing to represent the continent in next month's Club World Cup -- a competition which rather dwarfs the Sudamericana in terms of importance.

But for the other two semifinalists, the Sudamericana offers an opportunity to scale new heights. Chapecoense, a modest but growing team from the south of Brazil, have never come anywhere near such an achievement. This semifinal is already the biggest game in the club's history.

Cerro Porteno of Paraguay, meanwhile, have been stalwarts of South American international club competitions. They have taken part in the Libertadores on 38 occasions, the same number as their historic Asuncion rivals Olimpia. But there is a key difference. Olimpia have won the title three times -- only four South American clubs have won it more.

Cerro Porteno, though, are still waiting for their first international title, a cruel fact which Olimpia fans never let them forget.

All through this Sudamericana campaign, there has been a feeling that destiny might finally be smiling on them. Their home matches have been played in an atmosphere of almost religious fervour -- and perhaps an excess of emotion proved counter-productive on Tuesday.

At home to Atletico Nacional, the Paraguayans went frantically about their business. There was too much haste. Their young coach Gustavo Florentin kept trying to calm them down. But, all heat and no light, they were unable to move the ball with precision and the Colombians looked in control.

On the stroke of half-time, without having created a single opportunity, Cerro were slightly fortunate to have been awarded a penalty, confidently converted with a cool "Panenka" style dob by Cecilio Dominguez.

But it was a rare moment of cool from the hosts. At the start of the second half, Nacional had star centre-forward Miguel Borja sent off after a flare up. Even against 10 men, Cerro could not produce their best and they were punished in the closing stages by an own-goal equaliser. Macnelly Torres' free kick was nodded past his own keeper by Cerro Porteno left-back Alvaro Pereira.

The Colombians will now be favourites to go through with a win in the second leg in Medellin on Nov. 24. They may, though, be suffering from a fixture pile up, with crunch league games in a playoff system, a two-legged final of the Colombian Cup and the need to prepare for the Club World Cup.

Perhaps, away from the fervour of their own fans, Cerro Porteno will find the calm and maturity to take advantage.

Chapecoense, meanwhile, will consider themselves narrow favourites after holding San Lorenzo 1-1 in Buenos Aires. There was no sign of big night nerves from the Brazilians, who had the better of the early exchanges.

On the half hour, though, they fell behind to a Martin Cauteruccio free kick, curled in from that nightmare position for the goalkeeper, when the big guns are all lined up to head the ball, but the angle of the kick made it a dangerous shot as well.

The Chapecoense defence made the fatal mistake of not attacking the ball, Marco Angeleri nipped behind the line and if he did not get a touch, he distracted keeper Danilo, and the ball went in at the far post.

Suddenly full of confidence, San Lorenzo found their rhythm and a second goal seemed a matter of time. But just past the hour Chapecoense managed a rare breakout down the left. Full-back Dener curled in a low cross, his opposite number Emanuel Mas slipped, giving winger Ananais enough space to turn onto his left foot and squeeze a shot inside the far post.

Despite attacking substitutions and frenzied efforts, San Lorenzo were unable to add to the scoring. It finished 1-1, and with Chapecoense's Conda stadium a difficult venue for visitors, the second leg could be a match where the new boys triumph over the traditional power -- but we will have to wait three weeks to find out.