After two defeats Atlético Tucumán’s hopes of progressing in the Copa Libertadores already hung in the balance so the last place that Ricardo Zielinski’s would have wanted to go is the choking altitude of La Paz.
Copa Libertadores regulars The Strongest have always proved difficult to beat on home soil, let down by their inability to match those results closer to sea level, and so the prospect of El Decano revitalising their campaign with victory looked slim.
Unconcerned with the history of visitors struggling in the conditions, Atlético recorded a tremendous 2-1 win and in doing so became the first Argentine side to win in La Paz in 48 years.
Making the most of the thin air, Nicolás Romat gave Atlético an early lead with a thunderous long range effort from 40 yards and while The Strongest’s pressure did eventually bring a 37th minute equaliser, Edis Ibargüen knocking the ball past Augusto Batalla off his back, there was no surrender.
Batalla, his defence and the woodwork kept the visitors level and fifteen minutes from time, they snatched a second. Favio Alvarez lobbed goalkeeper José Flores and as the ball came back off the crossbar, substitute Javier Toledo was there to nod in the rebound.
Atlético held on for a famous win and while Libertad might be running away with Group C, there is nothing between the other sides, making The Strongest’s trip to Tucumán next week hugely important.
Independiente meanwhile have plenty to do if they are to get out of Group G after a defeat to Corinthians that left Avellaneda fuming.
“It’s shameful,” seethed manager Ariel Holan at full time after seeing his side denied a penalty and more importantly Silvio Romero’s goal ruled out incorrectly.
Independiente certainly didn’t deserve to lose the game but as Holan also pointed out his side were once more guilty of not taking their chances in a game that they dominated for large periods.
Corinthians always carried a threat on the counter but as the game went on that decreased and it was El Rojo who looked the more likely winners.
Silvio Romero had put a shot inches wide and substitutes Emmanuel Gigliotti and Maxi Meza both went close after half time as the home side continued to pour forward.
Fernando Gaibor’s free-kick that had gone into the Corinthians wall but clearly struck an arm in doing so was the penalty that Independiente felt should have been awarded and while at the time with El Rojo on top, it didn’t seem so important, the Brazilians took advantage ten minutes from time.
Jádson’s flicked header appeared as though it would be palmed away by Martín Campaña but the usually ever so reliable goalkeeper punched against the post and the ball bounced back against his head and into the net.
Corinthians had come for a point but snatched three were the sentiments of Holan and certainly that was made possible by the Uruguayan officials. Independiente pushed for an equaliser and when Silvio Romero redirected Fernando Gaibor’s volley into the net, they thought they had done that.
There were Independiente players in offside positions but Romero was quite clearly not one of them and the disallowed goal means El Rojo have just one win at the halfway mark.
Holan tried to hold his tongue after the game but Independiente president Hugo Moyano was less reserved in his criticism. “It was not a mistake. I believe there is an intention to favour someone and you don’t have to believe but something is always against us.”
Conspiracies aside, Independiente must now go and win either in Brazil or away to Millonarios before the final game against Deportivo Lara in Avellaneda.