America de Cali overcame the odds to grab the last play-off place after their 4-1 demolition of Tolima edged them past Quindio on goal difference. Around them, Once Caldas, Santa Fe and Chico, all held on to claim the remaining three qualifying spots.
Teams in the play-offs
America started the match with little more than a mathematical chance of making the top eight as they had the worst goal difference of the competing teams. However, while other teams struggled, America took the initiative with a second half blitz that pushed them past their rivals. America took an early lead thanks to a spectacular free kick from Ruben Bustos. But it was three goals in 15 minutes mid-way through the second half that gave them a crucial one goal advantage over ninth placed Quindio, despite a penalty for Tolima converted by Dario Bustos. The first two were scrappy efforts converted by Fernando Cardenas and Jairo Castillo while the third was a superb finish from Andres Valencia.
Once Caldas claimed third spot, coming out on top in a thrilling back and forth encounter with a never-say-die Medellin. Caldas stormed into a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes. After ten minutes Jefferson Cuero finished after a quick break caught Medellin off guard. Nine minutes later he netted again, this time lobbing from the edge of the area. Medellin fought back hard and two goals within two minutes, the first a long range thunderbolt from Luis Mosquera, the second a header from Santiago Trellez, saw them go in at half time on level terms.
After 75 minutes a flying Jaime Castrillon header put Medellin in front and heading for the play-off places on goal difference. However, the lead lasted less than ten minutes when John Pajoy grabbed the equalizer before a deflected Jose Moreno freekick two minutes later finally ended any hopes of qualification. Medellin pushed right till the end, registering an astounding 19 shots on goal but, as they have found so often this season, it was not enough. They have now failed to qualify for the play-offs since the opening tournament of 2010.
Santa Fe secured their play-off place despite going behind to an early goal against Cartagena. Oscar Rodes pulled one back shortly after half time, then netted again in injury time with an incredible lob from just outside the center circle to earn Santa Fe a 5th placed finish.
Chico also claimed a place despite their season fizzling out in the run-in. A 1-1 draw against Cucuta was enough for qualification, although it means Chico will be going into the play-offs with just one win in the last five. Chico took the lead after half an hour when Nicolas Palacio spotted Cucta keeper Williams Buenaños out of position and scored with an audacious lob from distance. Cucuta equalized in the dying minutes with a goal by Tommy Tobar but it was too little too late to either trouble Chico or to lift Cucuta off the bottom of the table.
An inconsistent end to their season cost Quindio dear and they dropped out of the top eight after failing to find a way past La Equidad. Quindio fell behind in the 51st minute when Eder Castaneda scored an own goal. Hamilton Ricard pulled one back 15 minutes later but their desperate search for the winner that would have earn them qualification ended in failure and they finish ninth.
Last year’s champions Nacional missed out after losing 1-0 to local rivals Itagui in a match that encapsulated their disappointing season. Despite dominating possession for long stretches they seemed short on ideas and vulnerable on the break against a well-organized Itagui. Nacional’s lingering hopes disappeared when their leaky defense again failed to deal with a cross that found Lionard Pajoy unmarked at the far post. For Itagui the win capped off a fine campaign in their first full year in the top division and secured a second place finish.
Cali briefly moved into the play-off positions after taking a 25th minute lead against Huila thanks to César Amaya. But their hopes were extinguished by a Andres Andrade goal just before time and a Sebastian Mejia winner after 82 minutes.
Relegated Pereira did all they could to salvage pride by gaining a last eight spot by netting four against Envigado – the most goals Envigado’s stingy defense has conceded all year. However, with results around them did not going their way they finish in 10th spot. After their disastrous opening tournament earlier in the year, they will be playing League B football next year. Unfashionable Envigado, like fellow Medellin minnows Itagui, have put their more illustrious neighbors, Nacional and Medellin, to shame this season, showing how team spirit, organization and a solid defense can make up for a lack of star quality. They finish 6th, but just three points off the top.
Having already qualified, Junior and Millonarios met with just pride to play for. A nil-nil draw was enough to confirm top spot for Junior and left Millonarios three points behind in fourth. Both teams will be among the favorites for the title after finishing the season strongly.
The draw for the play-off quarter finals will take place on Tuesday, then the first matches kick off next weekend.