The UEFA Champions League is a beautiful tournament. There’s little wonder why it’s so popular in South America.
That’s where we, Brazilians, Argentines, Chileans and Uruguayans turn our TV on so we can watch the best clubs and players in world football. That’s why our kids now wear Bayer Munich and Juventus shirts. Best tournament in the world, hands down.
But there are some football things that only happen in South America. Everyone knows that. Europeans know that too.
One of the stories for the ages was made last night, when Argentine club Atletico Tucuman travelled to Quito, where they would face El Nacional in the Copa Libertadores Qualifying Rounds. The first leg ended 2-2, so Tucuman would have a hard job ahead.
European clubs normally travel early, so they can get to the other city, train at the stadium and have their press conferences there. UEFA rules dictate a club must stay in the region a night before a match. But it doesn’t always happen in South America.
Tucuman had their preparation in the coastal city of Guayaquil so they wouldn’t have to deal with Quito’s altitude before the game.
However, what they found out hours before the match was that the Chilean air travel company they hired wasn’t allowed to make the local flight they needed.
The club took three hours to find another flight, which could only carry 19 players and six members of staff. The rest, such as the club president, were left behind.
Something that was also left behind were the kit bags. So Tucuman had to borrow them from Argentina’s U20 squad, who are also playing a tournament in the city.
The flight landed in Quito 15 minutes after the match should have started. El Nacional put on pressure by saying they would only wait for the 45 minutes agreed in the rules, so Tucuman had to do all they could to avoid the delay.
That’s why, according to reports from Argentina, the team bus travelled to the stadium at 130km/h.
— Orlando A. (@52orlando) February 8, 2017
They arrived well after the match’s scheduled kick-off, but in time to not forfeit. So after getting dressed and warming up, the game started one and a half hours later than expected.
What happened then?
With Tucuman players mentally and physically exhausted, what would you expect?
They won, of course.
A 1-0 away victory with a header on 68 minutes. Typical Libertadores goal. Ugly, but still with some kind of beauty.
Tucuman are now qualified for the third round of the qualifying stage. In 114 years, this is their first chance to take part in an international tournament.
Some call it a mess. Others call it charm. We call it Libertadores.