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With just three games remaining in the Paraguayan Apertura, the championship looks set to go down to the wire as Nacional and Olimpia both let slip valuable points

For the second week running league leaders Nacional dropped points on Sunday afternoon and once again second placed Olimpia failed to capitalise. With just three fixtures left in the 2011 Apertura, Nacional find themselves two points ahead despite yesterday’s 2-1 defeat to nine-man Libertad as Olimpia failed win against Tacuary.

Olimpia are the only team capable of overhauling the leaders but they find themselves in crisis at this crucial stage of the campaign. Defeat in the superclasico against Cerro Porteno followed by a lacklustre 0-0 draw with Guarani led to the sacking of coach Nery Pumpido on Tuesday. Under the interim management, Olimpia failed to break down a resilient Tacuary side and the game finished 0-0.

It means the Asuncion outfit have gone 276 minutes without scoring, their worst drought since September 2008, and key striker Pablo Zeballos has only scored once in his last eight games. He has now been caught at the top of the league scoring chart by Rubio Nu youngster Robin Ramirez.

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP
Nacional
Olimpia
Libertad
Tacuary
Games
19
19
18
19

Won
12
11
8
6

Points
40
38
29
28

Nacional have also seen their form plummet as the pressure mounts on their small squad. The 2009 Clausura champions had put together a run of three straight wins before a goalless draw with strugglers Sol de America slowed their title charge. 

On Sunday they played at home against a weakened Libertad team that had rested key players ahead of their Copa Libertadores quarter-final second-leg with Velez Sarsfield.

La Academia looked sluggish from the off conceding two goals in the first 15 minutes, a blow which they did not recover from. If Nacional fail to win next week it will be the first time since July 2010 that they have gone three games without a win.

Olimpia have the quality within their squad to win all three of their last fixtures, while Zeballos may be out of form their playmaker Vladimir Marin has been the creative force of the side. The 31-year-old knows what it takes to win the championship having picked up four medals during his spell with Libertad before moving to El Decano in January.

There is experience at the back as well with goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla a veteran of two World Cups and has a Copa Libertadores medal from 2006 with Boca Juniors, as does Uruguayan midfielder Sergio Orteman. Their experience as well as their ability on the pitch will be crucial in keeping this new team together for the next three games, the toughest of which is undoubtedly the clash with Libertad in two weeks’ time.

Nacional’s president Robert Harrison stated two weeks ago that to win the title they would need 49 points, which incidentally is the points total attained by both Guarani and Libertad in the last two seasons. They now stand on 40 points with three games left and are fully aware that one more slip could crush their title hopes. Nacional do have the comfort of an easier run-in, thanks in part to neighbouring club, Cerro Porteno’s Copa Libertadores ambitions.

Last week Cerro Porteno confirmed that in order to preserve their pitch in top condition for the continental tournament they would play their home league matches at Nacional’s stadium, the Arsenio Erico. It means Nacional’s ‘away’ fixture with El Ciclon on the last day of the season is now effectively a home game, what’s more Cerro Porteno are unlikely to field a full strength side especially if a win would mean handing the title to their arch rivals Olimpia.

This sort of ungentlemanly conduct has unfortunately been a feature of Paraguayan football in 2011. Olimpia would have little room for complaint if their title rivals ended up playing a Cerro Porteno ‘B’ team as their hands are far from clean. President Marcelo Recanate admitted earlier on in the season that he had offered significant financial incentives to opponents of perceived title rivals Libertad as a way of motivating them to win.

The build up to both superclasicos were tainted with rows over the distribution of tickets and the share of gate receipts with some fans not receiving tickets until the day before kick-off. You can be sure that if both title chasers do shake off their nerves and win their next two fixtures, the run up to the final weekend will be full of much more than just football.

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