By DAN KARELL
In a span of four minutes, Club Tijuana fans and players felt a full roller coaster of emotions, beginning with agony, peaking with the thrill of victory, and plummeting down to crushing resignation.
Earning a penalty kick in the 91st minute with the score tied 1-1, Xolos had a chance to defeat Brazilian powerhouse Atletico Mineiro in Belo Horizonte and continue their amazing debut Copa Libertadores run.
Instead, Mineiro goalkeeper Victor made an acrobatic kick save on Duvier Riascos stoppage-time penalty, holding on to draw on the night and aggregate, 3-3, earning a place in the Copa Libertadores semifinals on away goals. The result ends Xolos campaign in heartbreaking fashion, coming so close to extending their season.
Following last Thursday’s 2-2 result in Tijuana, Xolos made the more than 6,000 mile trip to the Estadio Indepencia to try their luck against Ronaldinho in his home country and stadium. Attacking from the start, Xolos captain Javier Gandolfi headed a ball past Victor in the 15th minute but it was brought back by the assistant referee for being offside.
Riascos put the Mexican debutantes on top in the 25th minute, sending in a great one-time finish to the far post after a clever pass from Richard Ruiz. In the 42nd minute Ronaldinho showed that even at 33 years of age, he can still affect the game, sending a curled free kick to the back post where his teammate Rever finished from close range to tie the score.
The two sides continued the attacking gameplan in the second half, with Mineiro’s Diego Tardelli and Xolos substitute Fidel Martinez providing real sparks in the final third. As the minutes passed it looked like Xolos’ time had finally come to an end, before the referee pointed to the spot and gave the visitors a chance to record a very rare win in Belo Horizonte.
What did you think of the match? Impressed with Club Tijuana’s run in Copa Libertadores? Disappointed to see their coach leave? Hoping Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo take on bigger roles with the U.S. Men’s National Team this summer?
Share your thoughts below.