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Club Tijuana vs. Atletico Mineiro, 2013 Copa Libertadores: Final score 2-2, Xolos fall apart late

Tijuana Xolos came out firing early and took an impressive 2-0 lead, but head to Brazil as the underdogs after Atletico Mineiro scored two second half goals.

Flickr under Creative Commons license
Flickr under Creative Commons license

Tijuana will face a seriously difficult fight for their Copa Libertadores lives next week in Brazil, following Thursday night's 2-2 draw with Atletico Mineiro. The Xolos got off to a brilliant start and were the better team through the first hour of the match, but crumbled late.

Victor came up with a massive save on the first big chance of the game for Tijuana, off a 14th minute free kick. A well-worked set piece routine on the edge of the box resulted in the ball making its way to Alfredo Moreno, who had his laser of a shot tipped over the bar by the Atletico Mineiro keeper. The game was an up-and-down one early, with the visitors creating a couple of half chances in the first half hour as well. Jo failed to finish on a big scramble in the box in the 22nd minute, and Cirilo Saucedo had to make a kick save on a long drive by Marcos Rocha in the 26th minute.

Xolos found their opener on a brilliant 32nd combination between Moreno and Duiver Riascos. At the top of the box, Moreno picked up the ball and played a brilliant backheel into the path of Riascos. The Colombian attacker didn't do himself any favors with his first touch, but recovered brilliantly to retain possession and drive a shot past Victor.

The second half kicked off with a substitution that would ultimately prove decisive, even if it happened under less than ideal circumstances. Bernard, who picked up a knock during a lively and effective first half performance, had to come off and was replaced by Luan.

Fidel Martinez missed a good chance on a corner in the 52nd minute, but instantly redeemed himself. Moreno set it up again, getting on the end of a long ball and striking a curled shot towards Victor. The Atletico Mineiro keeper could barely get a hand to it and touched it into a bad spot -- right into the path of Martinez. He finished from close range, giving Tijuana a commanding 2-0 lead.

The Xolos continued to push forward until around the hour mark, when Atletico Mineiro woke up and the tide turned considerably. The visitors picked up a crucial away goal in the 65th minute, and it was an absolute gift. Fernando Arce made a horrible attempt at a clearance on a Ronaldinho corner to the near post, Diego Tardelli lost his man in getting on the end of it, and Saucedo failed to keep out a less than stellar shot that was hit right to his stomach.

Tijuana tried to push back and made a pair of attacking subs, bringing Joe Corona and Daniel Marquez into the game later in the second half, but those moves ultimately failed to pay off for them. In second half stoppage time, the Tijuana defense crumbled, letting Luan push through them and score an equalizer after picking up a pass from Diego Tardelli.

A brilliant first 60 minutes wasn't good enough for Tijuana, as their poor 30 minutes proved more decisive. They hed to Minas Gerais knowing that they will need a win or at least two goals in a draw.