Jorge Valdivia, Lucas Barrios typify Colo Colo grit in Copa Libertadores
The last eight of this year's Copa Libertadores will not consist of teams only from Brazil and Argentina. Colo Colo of Chile have made it into the quarterfinals, drawing 2-2 on aggregate with Corinthians of Brazil, and going through on the away goals rule.
For Corinthians, this is another in a recent run of frustrations since finally winning the trophy in 2012. They have taken part in four subsequent tournaments, falling in the second round each time. They must surely have expected to reach the quarterfinals this time when they took an early lead in front of their own fans in Sao Paulo.
They had been somewhat fortunate to come away from the first leg in Santiago three weeks ago having lost by just one goal. But they quickly wiped out the Chileans' advantage, getting off to a rapid start, keeping Colo Colo under pressure and winning a penalty, slotted home by Jadson.
The scorer, a veteran playmaker, is one of the brightest players in the Brazilian game. He has often been underestimated, and probably deserved more than the brief international career he enjoyed nearly a decade ago. But if he dominated the opening exchanges, the baton soon passed to the rival veteran playmaker, Jorge Valdivia of Colo Colo.
Over his long career, Valdivia has often been the enfant terrible of the Chilean game, wonderfully gifted but notoriously unreliable. He is also something of a hate figure for Corinthians fans, since he enjoys cult status at their historical rivals Palmeiras.
But Valdivia turned the jeers to worried silence. He took the game by the throat. Corinthians' experienced defensive midfielder Ralf may well be wondering how Valdivia was able to find so much space on the field. Given room and a gust of inspiration, Valdivia can pass holes in rival defences, and he began to go to work on Corinthians. Just after the half hour he split the defence once more, allowing Damian Perez to cross from the left. Paraguayan international centre-forward Lucas Barrios got between the centre-backs to glance a header home off the far post -- and Corinthians now had an hour to find two goals.
Barrios and Valdivia are two representatives of an ageing side. Seven of the Colo Colo team are in their 30s. Could they cope with the rhythm that Corinthians were sure to impose in the second half?
This always looked like being the game's key question. Maybe the fact the Brazilians needed to score twice tipped them over the limit, trying to force a pace so quick they lost precision. They also had to keep their nerve together to cope with the repeated time wasting from the Chileans; such an infuriating part of the contemporary South American game.
Corinthians managed one goal just after the hour, Jadson's corner from the right met by a neat flicked volley from centre-forward Roger. There were plenty of other occasions when the ball was flying dangerously around the Colo Colo penalty area. At the other end, if 37-year-old striker Esteban Paredes still had the pace of old, he may have been able to take advantage of Valdivia's promptings and put the tie beyond the Brazilians' reach.
And the clock kept ticking. Corinthians may have been heartened by the experience the previous night of their compatriots Gremio, who saved themselves from elimination and sealed a quarterfinal place with fewer than 100 seconds to go.
But the nerves were jangling. Argentine referee Nestor Pitana, who handled the World Cup final, added on seven minutes of stoppage time. Corinthians left-back Danilo Avelar lost his head and wasted valuable seconds with a wild, high challenge which earned him a red card. And after enduring a couple more goalmouth scrambles, Colo Colo could celebrate in exhausted heaps as the final whistle blew.
The enormous probability is that they will be back in Sao Paulo for the quarterfinals to face Palmeiras in what would surely be an emotional occasion for Valdivia. Palmeiras won their first leg tie 2-0 away to Cerro Porteno of Paraguay, and can afford to lose by a single goal in front of their own fans and still go through. And there is another unlikely Paraguayan hope on Thursday night, when Libertad attempt to chase a 2-0 deficit against Argentina's Boca Juniors. The smart money, then, would be on a last eight of the Libertadores containing four clubs from Argentina, three from Brazil -- and Colo Colo.