Downtime madness envelops South America
Titles can be won and lost after the 90 minutes have elapsed. The introduction of VAR has lengthened downtime, and when nerves are strained and limbs fatigued, there is a risk of drama – the kind of drama that over the weekend decided of the fate of the Paraguayan championship.
The last round of the competition hosted the clash of the two teams vying for the title. Traditional giants Cerro Porteno only needed a draw. Upstarts Guarani had to win, and they had the home advantage. And at the start of the game, they also had a power play. After consultation with VAR, Cerro full-back Alan Benitez was sent off. Cerro Porteno was one man away and shortly after half-time he was two goals behind. When the second goal came in, the TV commentator shouted “Guarani champions! How did Cerro Porteno turn the tide?
A comeback seemed even more unlikely, almost impossible, when the game went to stoppage time. Two goals clear, one man clear, all Guarani had to do was keep a cool head and run the clock. .
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But then the fun and the games started. Cerro Porteno tried to apply late pressure. They won a corner. Being so close to a famous victory turned out to be too much for some in the Guarani ranks. Full-back Rodri Ferreira fell injured behind the goal line. Goalkeeper Gaspar Servio attempted a sharp practice, a so-called « game intelligence » so blatant that it can only be considered stupidity. He brought Ferreira back on the pitch, in the hopes the full-back would need treatment and more time would be consumed. The referee didn’t have it – correctly. Goalkeepers get away with murder in South American football, faking injuries to waste time. This time, however, Servio had no defense – and he was already on a yellow card. He was kicked out. Guarani had used up all of his substitutes so defender Marcos Cacares had to enter the goal.
From then on, things got worse for the hosts.
In the general din, push and bustle of stoppage tensions, the referee awarded Guarani defender Roberto Fernandez a yellow card. It was his second, and he’s gone. Guarani now had one central defender in goal and the other out of the field. Now playing 10 on nine, Cerro Porteno soared forward. Caceres in goal inspired no confidence and the patched up defense was a collective bag of nerves. In a crazy two minutes, Alberto Espinola forced a goal, Guarani launched a dangerous attack, Cerro recovered the ball, pushed it forward and Espinola crossed for Jair Patino to get to the far post. Patino, already on a yellow, exaggerated the celebrations and saw red, and it was nine to nine for the last few seconds before the referee blew his whistle and Cerro Porteno won the title.
The Guarani players surrounded the referee, who appeared to take a hit to the head of the assistant coach, but he was faultless. Guarani had let go because they couldn’t cope with the proximity of victory. They wanted too much to win.
This certainly wouldn’t appear to apply to the stoppage-time shenanigans in the Colombian Second Division that seemed to end with promotion to Union Magdalena’s top flight.
The match between Llaneros and Union Magdalena seemed to be of little importance. If Fortaleza won their match against Bogota, the Union could not be promoted. After 90 minutes, the Llaneros were leading 1-0. But then the news came that Fortaleza had lost. Two goals in stoppage time for Union Magdalena would now change everything. And they came, against a defense that broke suspiciously. The Llaneros keeper appeared to be doing his best, but the level of defense engagement in front of him was highly questionable.
Colombian players around the world, including Juan Cuadrado and Hugo Rodallega, were quick to condemn the events of the last minutes of the match. The incident took on proportions far beyond football. Colombian President Ivan Duque called the match a « national disgrace », and Guillermo Herrera, his sports minister, called it « an act of corruption ».
Clearly there will be an investigation – a sort of VAR of the sports justice system. The decision on who should be promoted to the Colombian Premier League will go well beyond stoppage time.