Atletico Junior staged another remarkable comeback to come out 3-2 winners in the first leg of the Liga Postobon final against Once Caldas.
Junior started the match aggressively, twice going close in the opening stages only to be denied by Caldas keeper Luis Martinez. However, it was Caldas who took the lead after 19 minutes when a Jorge Nuñez free kick took a deflection that left Junior keeper Carlos Rodriguez rooted to the spot and only able to watch as the ball snuck in at the left post.
Twenty minutes later and with Junior still pressing, Caldas doubled their lead after a lightning fast counter attack from the irrepressible Nuñez. After receiving the ball on the half way line, Nuñez sprinted the length of the Junior half before beating the keeper with a low shot to the left.
Junior though, have consistently proved their resilience throughout this year’s tournament and almost immediately hauled themselves back into the match. It took a bit of luck, as Caldas defender Mauricio Casierra was unfortunate to give away a penalty after the ball rebounded off his stomach and into his hand, but Carlos Bacca made no mistake and Junior went in at half time with renewed optimism.
The equalizer came after 53 minutes when Vladimir Hernadez finished off a fine team move. Some neat football in the middle of the park led to a superb threaded through-ball which Carlos Bacca controlled with the softest of touches before rounding the keeper then unselfishly laying it off for Hernandez, who was left with the simplest of tap ins.
The comeback was completed with a second penalty four minutes later. Caldas defender David Alvarez took the ball in a crunching tackle on Luis Carlos Ruiz, but he also took the man as he slid in from behind and can have few complaints. Bacca stepped up again and smashed the ball home.
Caldas’ troubles continued when midfielder Alexandra Mejia was sent off for a second bookable offense with 20 minutes remaining. With a man down, the Manizales team shut up shop, content to limit the damage to one goal. Junior continued to push but could not find a way past, leaving Caldas hoping for the return match on Wednesday.