The calendar says that the bank holiday ends with Monday, but for Colombian football, the holiday is this Sunday. Tonight there will be a new League champion. The last game of the semester will be seen on Win Sports+, starting at 7 pm.
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The star will light up a Colombian city. It could be in Medellin, where Atlético Nacional fans see the 17th star in their history up close, very close, to ratify themselves as the most times champion of Colombian soccer, now, with much more advantage over his most immediate followers. And it could also be in Ibagué, the venue for the last match of the championship. Deportes Tolima fans have every right to dream. Why not?
Nacional is excited
Wednesday's 3-1 at the Atanasio Girardot court, ratified at the desk on Friday after a complaint from his rival, gives them wings to dream . And why not, if even the magic of football is giving them a hand? Or if not, let the green followers who never tire of repeating it say so, from all points of view, with professional cameras or with cell phones, a goal by Yerson Candelo, from further back than half the pitch, which unraveled a very complicated game on Wednesday and gave Nacional a very important advantage.
“I think it is a dream, a dream that is coming true. One as a coach and as a former player of Nacional, it is incredible what I am experiencing together with my family. I think that one is calm, like upstairs, I don't know, there is something that is helping us a lot, because seeing that goal by Candelo… You have to give credit to those who are upstairs, my mom, my angels, the in-laws…” . The phrase is from Hernán Darío Herrera, a 64-year-old paisa, born in Angelópolis, raised in Caldas and trained as a player in the green house.
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Herrera already knows what it's like to do an Olympic lap dressed in green and white. He did it as a player, and one of the good ones, very good ones, in 1981, when Nacional, led by Osvaldo Juan Zubeldía, dominated a home run that included the champions of the two previous years, América and Junior, and a team that was emerging in what highest in the League after being a tenant of the basement of the championship for almost two decades: the Deportes Tolima in which Gabriel Camargo began as manager and a young goalkeeper was waiting for an opportunity, Hernán Torres.
< br>“This team has achieved character, when they score against us we become braver. Tolima is a great team and Nacional controlled it”, declared Herrera after the first leg of the final.
El ‘Arriero’ has known how to bring together many experienced players with other younger ones who ask for clues and learn quickly. One of them is Daniel Mantilla, who came from La Equidad and now knows that he has what it takes to fight for a title and the best thing is, he does not deny himself the dream of winning it.
“We took an important step towards the title, but the second leg in Ibagué is missing. We have to go out with the same desire, we have an important score, but we want to propose and win. We have recovered well to play in the best way”, said Mantilla in a press conference before the second game of the final.
Tolima, to overcome
On the other side, in Ibagué, they dream of a comeback that doesn't seem easy. Only once, in the entire history of Colombian football, has the team that lost the first leg of the final by two goals difference managed to make the Olympic return.
It was Atlético Nacional, in the first half of 2017 That team, which a year before won the Copa Libertadores, took all his hierarchy to overcome a 2-0 loss: he thrashed Cali 5-1 to win the star 16. Tolima wants to put history aside, the statistics that on paper do not favor them, and, above all, the fact of not having been able to close a final as champion playing in their stadium, the Manuel Murillo Toro. The three stars that adorn his shield were sewn playing as a visitor: in 2003-II, against Deportivo Cali at Pascual Guerrero; in 2018-I, against Nacional, at the Atanasio Girardot, and in 2021-I, against Millonarios, in El Campín.
< br>Despite this, Tolima recently broke a 28-year curse: to take an Olympic lap at home. He did it against Deportivo Cali in this year's Super League. After equalizing 1-1 in Palmaseca, the red wine and gold sealed an unprecedented title in their showcases by winning 1-0 at the Murillo Toro, with a goal from Michael Rangel.
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The same Hernán Torres who appeared as an emergent goalkeeper in a match against Nacional, in El Campín, in the octagonal in 1981, is the one who dreams, 41 years later, of his third League title, after achieving it with Millonarios in 2012-II and with Tolima himself a year ago, in Bogotá.
“This is not over, we have a 2-0 difference, but there are 90 minutes left, continue to have faith in your team in your group. He has shown it in everything we have been in tournaments, it is a team that does not give up and does not give up. We are going to give it all; We are going to leave life, if we have to leave it, on the court. Trust your team, trust your group, what you have and what has been built”, Torres emphasized at a press conference.
“This is a final and if you make a mistake, the rival charges you. And more against Atlético Nacional. They took advantage of our mistakes in the three goals. People are celebrating, we have to let them celebrate, there are 90 minutes left. They are celebrating their work, they carried out their game. We made huge mistakes, now we are waiting for the game in Ibagué”, added the Tolima coach.
Torres has a past as a goalkeeper and knows what a mistake means in a final. In 1981, he had to come on as an emergency replacement for Oscar Héctor Quintabani, in a match against Nacional. The first ball he touched was a goal: a free kick by César Cueto that slipped into his hands. The coach at the time, Pedro Nel Ospina, gave him confidence and Tolima, with him in goal, qualified for the Copa Libertadores for the first time.
In the game in Medellín, the Ecuadorian goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez failed. Torres came out to support him. “We are human beings, and just as he was wrong this time, he has saved us in important games, he has saved us in the Copa Libertadores. He is a World Cup goalkeeper, he is an excellent goalkeeper. I was a goalkeeper too and I was wrong. But not only was he wrong, his teammates were also wrong, we did not support him by tying the game. And I am also responsible”, Torres said.
There are 90 minutes left, Medellín and Ibagué have the party set and ready. Where will the first star of 2022 shine tonight?
JOSÈ ORLANDO ASCENCIO
Deputy Editor of SPORTS
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