This is what cup competition was made for. Independiente’s victory over Atlético Tucumán on Tuesday evening had everything – superb goals, red cards, missed penalties and drama in abundance but while supporters of both clubs were put through a rollercoaster of emotions, it was El Rojo that eventually prevailed.
Trailing from the first leg, Ariel Holan’s attack-minded side pegged back Atlético Tucumán almost from kick off with the goal of swiftly cancelling out the slim deficit. Having already spurned a couple of decent openings, El Rojo drew level in the tie after 16 minutes when Leandro Fernández hit a wicked, looping shot over and beyond Cristian Lucchetti into the top corner.
Avellaneda was rocking as the locals sensed that the visitors were on the ropes and struggling to contain Fernández, Ezequiel Barco and Martín Benítez running in behind striker Emanuel Gigliotti.
A second goal that would put Independiente ahead in the tie looked imminent but shortly after half time captain Nicolás Tagliafico was shown a second yellow card for a foolish tug on Luis Rodriguez’s shirt.
Suddenly the tie swung in favour of the visitors and with the numerical advantage, Ricardo Zielinski’s side began to come forward, no longer simply looking to hit El Rojo on the break.
However, counter-attack specialists themselves, Independiente could still pose a threat and when the electrifying Fabricio Bustos burst forward from right back, exchanging neat passes with Leandro Fernández and Martín Benítez, Atlético’s panicked defence brought down the 21-year-old.
On the final day of last season Ezequiel Barco missed from the penalty spot to deny Independiente a place in the Copa Libertadores and on Tuesday it was the turn of Leandro Fernández. The striker’s spotkick was well saved by Lucchetti and from the resulting rebound, Fernández managed to miss with the goal open.
The supporters had seen this before – El Rojo appeared to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Uruguayan referee Andrés Cunha almost made certain of that, when he awarded the visitors a penalty of their own shortly after, for a handball that clearly struck the arm of an Atlético player rather than an Independiente defender.
Luis Rodriguez tucked away the penalty but encroaching players saw it retaken and at the second attempt Martín Campaña guessed correctly. In the space of a minute, Independiente were out to suddenly feeling as though the tie could still be won.
And so with only eight minutes remaining, Independiente’s ten men pushed forward, the ball came to Benítez 25 yards from goal and after slipping away from one challenge thundered the ball past Lucchetti to spark wild celebrations.
Atlético needed just one to progress on away goals and threw players forward. Former Racing defender Yonathan Cabral saw red as he clashed with a somewhat dramatic Campaña when trying to get the ball but they couldn’t find a way through.
Independiente held on for a famous victory and book their place in the quarter finals. Nacional or Estudiantes are up next but Holan’s side will feel they are a match for anyone left in the competition. The mentality of Holan’s side is still questionable after a history of recent failures under previous managers but El Rojo showed a spirit lacking all too often.