Soccer-Moustachioed Basque seeks Bolivar's first final

Reuters

By Rex Gowar

July 21 (Reuters) - Xabier Azkargorta, the last man to coach Bolivia at the World Cup finals 20 years ago, is this month seeking to add another extraordinary milestone to his remarkable career in the South American soccer backwater.

The moustachioed Basque, who led Bolivia at the 1994 finals in the United States, having qualified for the first time since 1950, is now hoping to make his current club Bolivar the first from Bolivia to reach the final of South America's top club competition, the Libertadores Cup.

Standing in their way are the Libertadores Cup favourites San Lorenzo, who they visit in Buenos Aires on Wednesday (2245 GMT) for the first leg of a keenly-anticipated semi-final.

The long-awaited clash follows the resumption of the competition after a 10-week break for the World Cup finals in Brazil when Uruguay's Defensor Sporting visit Nacional of Paraguay for the first leg of their semi-final in Asuncion on Tuesday (0015 GMT).

Azkargorta, 60, who sports a bushy white moustache, is looking to veteran former Ecuador striker Carlos Tenorio, signed last month, for goals as he seeks an upset at the Nuevo Gasometro.

"Bolivar have shown what's already happened in Ecuador with (2008 champions) LDU Quito - that it isn't only the big teams from Brazil and Argentina that can win international titles," said Tenorio.

"They got this far because of the great squad there is. I'm very hopeful," the 35-year-old striker said in an interview published on Monday in the Bolivian daily El Deber (www.eldeber.com.bo).

Tenorio has an asset he shares with the Bolivians in the team, based in La Paz 3,600 metres above sea level, having been accustomed to the thin air of Quito at 2,800 metres, an advantage Bolivar are keen to exploit in the home leg against San Lorenzo next week.

San Lorenzo's coach Edgardo Bauza is looking to win the trophy for a second time after seeing his LDU Quito side crowned as Ecuador's first South American champions in 2008.

TOP TRIO

The 56-year-old Argentine was in danger of losing a top trio of players during the long break, while the World Cup took place, but negotiations have ensured forward Ignacio Piatti sees the tournament out before his move to Montreal Impact in Canada.

Paraguayan holding midfielder Nestor Ortigoza's contract with San Lorenzo was due to end on June 30 but he managed to agree a new three-year deal.

Veteran Leandro Romagnoli had a red card in the quarter-final annulled by regional governing body CONMEBOL after a mistake by the referee.

San Lorenzo need the trio for their tilt at the trophy and to end years of jibes by fans of the other four teams in Argentina's so-called Big Five -- Boca Juniors, River Plate, Independiente and Racing Club, all Libertadores Cup winners.

In the wake of Brazil's humiliating semi-final exit from their own World Cup finals, this year's last four line-up is the first since 1991 not to feature a Brazilian team -- and it will therefore be the first time since 2005 that Brazil has not supplied a finalist.

It will also be the first time that the champions have not come from Brazil since 2009.

Ronaldinho's title holders Atletico Mineiro were eliminated by Atletico Nacional of Colombia in the round of 16.

None of the four semi-finalists have reached the final before and Bolivar are the first Bolivian side to reach the last four since they did so in 1986. (Editing by Tim Collings)