As the league stage of Colombia's premier club competition comes to a close Equidad, Pasto and Chico survive final day scares, while Patriotas and Junior suffer heartbreak.
The first stage of the Colombian Apertura was concluded on the weekend. The top 8 teams from the initial 18 club league stage progress to the second stage which features two groups of four teams. The second stage group winners then move on to the final, which is played over two legs at the end of June.
Independiente Medellin and Quindio brought their disappointing seasons to an end with a wide upon 2-2 draw to finish in 15th and 16th respectively. Medellin took a 2-0 lead with goals from Arboleda and Rancan. In the 64th minute Hilton Murillo Sanmartin pulled a goal back for the visitors, before well-travelled, Colombian international and former Middlesbrough striker, Hamilton Ricard, levelled from the penalty spot. The point meant that Quindio finished above their opponents, but both sides will be disappointed to have finished their seasons with a meaningless Saturday afternoon fixture.
Tolima hosted Envigado on Saturday evening, as they drew to a close a hugely successful season. Despite a disappointing 1-0 home defeat in their final fixture, the home side will be delighted to have finished the first round of the tournament 7 points clear at the top of the table. With an excellent attack, lead by prolific Paraguayan striker Robin Ramirez, and the toughest defence in the league, Tolima are the clear favourites to progress to the final.
With the formalities of Saturday done and dusted, the 11 teams who remained in contention for qualification got down to serious business on Sunday afternoon.
Itagui faced Huila in their final game of the season in the knowledge that a single point should confirm qualification, given their superior goal difference. The golden eagles made the perfect start, settling the home fans nerves as Alzate Correa pounced on a lose ball to edge Itagui ahead. Huila began the day with sufficient points to guarantee qualification, and the home sides solid defending ensured they finished in third position ahead of their visitors. Antioquia minnows Itagui have surprised many this year with their fast-paced counter attacking football and resolute defending.
Itagui's neighbours Atletico Nacional still had an outside chance to salvage a disastrous season. The Medellin giants brought in 11 new players ahead of their Copa Libertadores campaign. The deadly combination of midfield play-maker Macnelly Torres and Colombian international striker Dorlan Pabon drew widespread praise from many commentators and Los Verdes were considered a decent outside bet to win the competition. Domestic competitions took a back seat, and when Nacional parted ways with their manager hours before their elimination from the Copa Libertadores, their season slipped from promise to failure.
Nacional required a win and favourable results elsewhere if they were to qualify. They faced struggling Real Cartagena away in their final game of the season and all went to plan as Carlos Renteria gave the visitors the lead in the 23rd minute. However, Jhon Hernandez pulled the home side square on the 72nd minute and Nacional were unable to respond. Nacional will take time during their unwelcome extended break to regroup and prepare for the start of the Colombian Clasura in July, without the distraction of continental football.
Once Caldes finished off a disappointing season with a 2-2 draw against Junior, to extinguish December's champions fading hopes of qualification. Veteran playmaker Giovanny Hernandez finished an excellent season with a goal, while Colombian international Dayro Moreno also got his name on the score sheet.
Chico picked up the vital three points they needed against high-flying Santa Fe, with an excellent second half performance. The tie remained level at half time but Jeysen Nuñez pounced on a lose ball to header the Tujan club ahead in the 74th minute. The game was put beyond doubt 8 minutes later, as Edwin Movil clinically finished off the Bogota club from the penalty spot. Boyaca Chico finished in 7th on 27 points, while Bogota's Santa Fe hung on to second place despite their defeat.
After a season of mixed results, Deportivo Cali saved their best until last with a superb 3-0 victory over a strong Equidad side. Powerful Colombian striker Cristian Nazarith topped of a good season back in Colombia with a tidy volleyed finish in the 18th minute. Alvaro Dominguez then curled a perfectly placed freekick into the top corner on 35 minutes, before Jefferson Murillo powered home a lose ball to finish the rout. The win ensured Cali join their beaten opponents in the second round of the competition.
As with Atletico Nacional, newly promoted Patriotas still held an outside chance of qualification as they approached their final game against Bogota giants Millonarios. Despite the clinical finishing of talismanic striker Humberto Osorio, Millonarios found themselves well out of contention approaching their final game. Patriotas picked up the vital point they needed with an excellent 1-0 away win in the capital. The final whistle blew and the small contingent of away fans celebrated as it seemed they had done enough to secure miraculous final day qualification.
Pasto began the day within the qualifying positions, and they only required a point against Cucuta, who were adrift at the bottom of the table with nothing to play for and a goal difference of -23. Favourites Pasto took the lead toward the end of the first half and looked in control until Cucuta began a spirited second half come back. Luis Fernando Irarte pounced on a lose ball to draw the home side level, before Victor Uribe finished off an excellent passing move with a deft finish.
As the clock ticked into injury time Pasto's attacks become more desperate. Mauricio Mina Quintero chased a lofted clearance, and as he tussled with his marker he was able to find space to slide in a decisive equaliser from a tight angle. Pasto snatched qualification in the 92nd minute and as the news reached the travelling Patriotas fans joy, faded to despair.
Medellin 2-2 Quindio
Tolima 0-1 Envigado
Once Caldas 2-2 Junior
Real Cartagena 1-1 Atletico Nacional
Deportivo Cali 3-0 La Equidad
Itagui 1-0 Atletico Huila
Boyaca Chico 2-0 Santa Fe
Millonarios 0-1 Patriotas
Cucuta 2-0 Deportivo Pasto
11 - Giovanny Hernandez
11 - Humberto Osorio
10 - Robin Ramirez