When Jaguares traveled to Colombia to take on Atletico Junior in Thursday night’s Copa Libertadores match, few gave them a serious chance at advancement. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Jaguares had their work cut out for them on the road against an extremely talented Junior squad. But in what proved to be a wild week of results in Copa Libertadores play, Jaguares pulled another upset by earning a 3-3 draw to advance on away goals. It was a game that provided a perfect illustration of the excitement, craziness, and unpredictability of the Copa Libertadores competition.
Even by Copa Libertadores standards this was a wild one. Thursday night’s match featured six total goals, incredible individual play, a few massive errors, a player attacking his own manager, fans on the field, and some amazing late game heroics. When the dust settled, the worst team in Mexico this season (Jaguares finished dead last in the Clausura standings) were advancing to the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals.
On the road in Colombia, Jaguares three times came from behind to manage the draw against Junior. Providing most of the magic was star striker Jackson Martinez, who scored the first two goals for Jaguares to keep his team in the match. Martinez missed nearly the entire season with injury, but has now scored five goals in three games since his return last week.
Jaguares were in an early hole after goalkeeper Jorge Villalpando misjudged a ball and left himself vulnerable to a shot by Junior’s Juan David Valencia. A Martinez header brought Jaguares back level, before a penalty shot from Luis Alfonso Paez early in the second half put Junior back on top. Again it was Martinez, though, this time converting on a rebound off Junior goalkeeper Sebastian Viera. With less than 30 minutes to play, the 2-2 score had Jaguares in position to go through on away goals. But as the game reached its later stages, things began to get a bit crazy.
In the 73rd minute, a massive error from Villalpando put Junior back on top. Leaping in the air to catch a ball that appeared to be sailing out of bounds, Villalpando couldn’t hang on. The Jaguares keeper dropped the ball right to the feet of Junior's Carlos Arturo Bacca who knocked it into the open goal for a 3-2 lead. With the mistake, Jaguares manager Jose Guadalupe Cruz had seen enough. Cruz immediately subbed on a new goalkeeper, a move that triggered an angry reaction from Villalpando. Instead of taking a spot on the bench, Villalpando went after his manager in fury. He got close enough to push Cruz in the chest, before being physically restrained by several staff members.
As Villalpando was pulled into the locker room, play resumed. Almost immediately, a dust-up between Martinez and Junior's Cesar Fawcett led to a shoving match between both teams. While the players faced off, a Junior fan ran onto the field. In the brief melee, Jaguares midfielder Ricardo Esqueda unleashed a flying kick on the invading spectator. When the referee finally regained control, red cards were shown to both Martinez and Fawcett.
With all the craziness finally sorted out, game action resumed once again. As stoppage time approached, Jaguares midfielder Edgar Andrade unleashed a blast from outside the box. The shot found the back of the net, and suddenly the scoreline was back level at 3-3. Jaguares held on in the dying minutes, preserving the 4-4 aggregate draw which put the team from Chiapas through to the next round on away goals. It was an absolutely amazing accomplishment for a team which struggled through so much of the domestic season in Mexico.
Jaguares will now face Cerro Porteno in the quarterfinal series, but they will open play without Jackson Martinez. They also may be without Villalpando, who possibly just concluded his final appearance in a Jaguares uniform. If nothing else, it was a memorable way to go out. Within minutes of his outburst, Villalpando was trending worldwide on Twitter. Now as the team returns from Colombia, Cruz and club management will have to decide what to do with the disgraced goalkeeper.
No matter what happens in the coming days, one lesson learned on Thursday night was never count this Jaguares squad out. The adjective "resilient" is almost an understatement for this team. Coming back from behind three separate times in a hostile environment – with all kinds of internal and external distractions – Jaguares proved they are more than deserving of their unlikely spot in the Copa Libertadores quarterfinal.