Atlético Nacional waited until the 91st minute to shatter Millonarios’ title dreams last night in Medellín, as Dayro Moreno headed Los Verdolagas into a final matchup with Deportivo Cali.
El embajador will once again have to wait until next season to claim their 15th title, after losing 1-0 last night to Atlético Nacional in a game they’ll definitely feel they could have and probably should have won. After the 0-0 in the first leg in El Campín last Wednesday it was the end of Millonarios’ title aspirations.
On a comically waterlogged pitch at Medellín’s Atanasio Girardot stadium, Millonarios had the better of Nacional for the best part of 90 mins, despite being on the wrong end of two fairly dubious, yet key, refereeing decisions.
Los capitalinos started the match positively, as Nacional had to rely on a perfectly timed last ditch challenge from Carlos Cuesta to keep Harold Mosquera off the scoresheet, after David Macalister Silva had played him in on the left from a counter in the fifth minute.
There was a nasty incident 10 minutes later, when Millonarios’ Pedro Franco and Nacional’s Alexis Henríquez clashed heads at a corner, both drawing blood and requiring medical attention. Franco reappeared minutes later with a latex swimming cap, which at least seemed appropriate attire, given the state of the pitch.
In the 30th minute a controversy kicked off as Henríquez quite blatantly pulled Millonarios striker Duvier Riascos’ shirt not once but twice as they fought for a header and then a loose ball in the box. However, referee Luis Sánchez waved away the penalty appeals from the outraged visitors and play continued.
Millonarios left-winger Mosquera had the first clear-cut chance of the night seven minutes before the break as he drew an exceptional save from Nacional keeper Franco Armani with a 30-yard piledriver. Riascos attempted a spectacular bicycle kick from the resultant corner kick, but wasn’t able to connect.
Arguably the most controversial moment of the game came moments later, however, again involving referee Sánchez, Henríquez and Riascos. The Nacional captain somehow managed to avoid yellow after going through Riascos with a bone-crunching tackle, one which would have had him seeing red in any other match. Sánchez awarded Riascos the free kick but elected to keep both cards in his pockets, allowing Henríquez to stay on the pitch when Millonarios should have been playing against 10 men.
Armani was called into action three minutes later with another vital save, this one a spectacular effort to bat away a rocket from midfielder Maximiliano Núñez, which was destined for the top left corner. Nacional had a brief opportunity to steal the lead right before half-time from a dangerously-situated free kick, but Dayro Moreno drilled it directly into the bottom of the wall.
Millonarios midfielder David Silva almost gave the visitors the lead in rare and spectacular fashion in the opening minute of the second half, as his corner sailed past teammate Andrés Cadavid and very nearly underneath a surprised Armani, who just managed to awkwardly keep the olimpico out.
The home side finally got a chance in minute 52 as Moreno found space but directed a free header right at Millos goalkeeper Nicolás Vikonis. This began a brief period of dominance for Atlético Nacional, who ramped up the pressure and had shots from Moreno and Aldo Leao Ramírez go narrowly wide.
Millonarios substitute Eliecer Quiñones very nearly bundled in a dangerous Mosquera cross in the 69th minute, but that was the closest his team got for the remainder of the match.
With time ticking down, Nacional’s own Quiñones substitute, Rodin, looped a 91st minute header just over the outstretched fingers of Vikonis and against the bottom of the crossbar, falling into the path of the onrushing Moreno, who headed it in from a metre out, sending los verdolagas into a final tie against Deportivo Cali, who had earlier despatched their local rivals América 2-0.
The first leg of the final will be played on Wednesday night 7pm at the the Palmaseca in Palmira, Valle del Cauca, with the return leg taking place on Sunday night 7pm at the Atanasio Girardot in Medellín.
By Tristan Quigley