The veteran defender scored seconds before the half-time break and was a titan at the back to shut out Velez, who must win in the 2nd leg to stand a chance of making the final
The Penarol team entered the stadium to an infernal atmosphere, as the 60,000 strong home support greeted their heroes with a staggering display of fireworks, flares and smoke bombs which lit up a fine Montevideo evening. Inspired by the passion from the terraces the Manya went on the attack from the outset, giving Velez a few scares in the opening stages.
Goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero was forced into a brilliant save with six minutes on the clock, tipping over at full-strength to deny Matias Mier after the midfielder let rip with a stinging effort from 30m. Mier was the star of the Uruguayan effort in the first half, and almost teed Alejandro Martinuccio up from close-range; unfortunately for the home team, the ball fell to the number 10's right foot and his volley went wide.
Velez steadied the ship after 10 minutes, and started to impose themselves on the game thanks to some probing runs by Santiago Silva and Ricky Alvarez, who got the nod just before half time in favour of the injured Maxi Moralez. A neat interchange from Ricky and Emiliano Papa down the left gave Juan Manuel Martinez an opportunity, and goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa had to be strong as he batted away 'El Burrito's' effort to safety.
Silva also went close from short-range, but the Fortin's best chance of the period went to left back Papa. The defender was left free in the area after an exquisite flick from Martinez, but panicked and shot harmlessly wide from point-blank range.
Both sides were streaming forward at every opportunity, creating a gripping spectacle of end-to-end football. Martinuccio clipped the post with a shot after further good play from Mier, while Silva and Alvarez both forced saves from Penarol's Sosa. Neither team could break through, however, until just before half time when the Carboneros took the lead.
A Luis Aguiar corner hung in the air from the left hand side, and Dario Rodriguez was there to meet it. The veteran ex-Schalke defender sneaked in between the Velez markers to head perfectly, leaving Barovero with no chance as the Centenario exploded with joy in time for the break.
The game restarted after half time in exactly the same fashion, with the ball flying from one end to another in a frenetic encounter. The away side pushed hard as they streamed forward in search of the equaliser, but a Penarol defence marshalled expertly by Rodriguez and Alejandro Gonzalez showed little sign of letting the Argentines break through.
Velez thought they had broken through after 55 minutes, when Martinez latched onto Augusto Fernandez's dangerous centre from the left and hit past Sosa. But 'El Burrito' had handled in taking the ball down and referee Carlos Amarilla correctly disallowed the goal, leaving the Fortin to continue searching for a way to level proceedings. Just minutes later Victor Zapata let rip from long-range, only to see his shot zip wide of the goalkeeper's left-hand post.
Penarol meanwhile started to threaten primarily on the break, and were exiting rapidly from their own half as soon as an away attack broke down. There were several half chances but little to suggest a second was likely; number 10 Martinuccio was having a poor game by his standards and did not seem on the same wavelength as many of his team mates, diminishing one of the Uruguayans' primary creative outlets.
More excellent work from Martinez almost let in Santiago Silva with 15 minutes left, but the Uruguayan could not punish his compatriots as his header lacked power, and the ball was scrambled away by the defence without troubling Sosa. The Uruguayans were able to repel the last few attacks mounted by their rivals, and the final whistle blew in Montevideo to a deafening wall of noise from the stands, celebrating the confirmation of a 1-0 home victory.
The narrow win gives Penarol a slim target to defend when they visit the Fortin in a week's time, as they aim to make the Copa Libertadores final for the first time since their victorious 1987 campaign. Velez meanwhile know they have to hit the back of the net at least once to stay in the competition, and maintain their hopes of sealing a historic Clausura-Copa double.
Follow Goal.com on . Get the latest football news direct... Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best football fan community in the world!