For a while it looked as though Atlético Tucumán’s Copa Libertadores dream might be over before it even began as the clock ticked past the scheduled kick off time and the players were yet to even arrive in Quito for their second leg against El Nacional.
However, Fernando Zampedri’s second half header ensured El Decano marched in to the next stage of qualifying amid Ecuadorian complaints and accusations of foul play from Pablo Lavallén.
Atlético’s first ever match in international competition last week ended in a 2-2 draw and so El Decano had plenty to do in the altitude of Quito on Tuesday night.
With the squad acclimatising in Guayaquil, the plan was to fly to Quito on gameday but due to an issue with the flight’s paperwork, the plane was held on the runway for hours and slowly kickoff time came and went.
Talk was that after being 45 minutes late, El Nacional could claim a walkover but CONMEBOL allowed more time and eventually after speeding from the airport with a police escort, Atlético arrived.
The players were there, the kit wasn’t and so Argentina’s under-20 side (in Ecuador for the Sudamericano) donated their shirts to Pablo Lavallén’s side.
An hour and a half late and wearing the famous blue and white of Argentina rather than the less well known blue and white of Atlético Tucumán, El Decano got underway.
The match understandably failed to live up to the pre-match drama but just after the hour mark, Fernando Zampedri’s looping header broke the deadlock and put Atleti ahead in the tie.
The visitors held on for a historic win and will now face Colombian side Junior in the third and final qualifying round.
El Nacional were unhappy with the circumstances and CONMEBOL’s decision but Lavallén made it clear where he thought the blame lied.
“God is fair,” the Atlético manager said at full time.
“The truth is, what they did is blatent. They stopped our plane on the runway for two hours and then threatened us that we couldn’t play.”
Whatever else happens to Atlético Tucumán on their Libertadores adventure it is unlikely to top February 7th in Quito.