Clarín

Talk about cutting it close.  In a tale reminiscent of a Hollywood thriller,  Argentine team Atlético Tucumán had a momentous evening last night. Defying the odds and securing a place in the third phase of the prestigious Copa Libertadores, the most sought after prizes in Latin American club football.

The side beat their Ecuadorian opponents, El Nacional, 1-0 following their previous 2-2 draw in Argentina. Okay, a 1-0 victory doesn’t sound that amazing. However, the lengths they went to in order to actually play the game was something else, and made the win all the more sweet. What lengths? Try touching down in Ecuador a mere 13 minutes before the scheduled kick-off, and then speeding down the motorway at 130 km an hour. Oh, and having to use an Argentine Under 20s national strip — because yours is still stranded at the airport — and changing on the bus in true school boy fashion.

Things were going smoothly for the squad until they reached Jose Joaquin de Olmedo airport in Guayaquil, some 430 kilometres from Quito, where the game was set to take place. All buckled up and ready for take off, a rather large hurdle appeared in the form of the plane not having permission to fly due to not having the proper documentation. This thrust a more than three hour delay upon the squad, making an arrival on time look unlikely.

But the team was not going to give up the chance to fight for a spot in the Copa Libertadores just because of a couple small setbacks. Calls were made and wheels were set in motion. The club’s president arranged a 25 seated private plane, enough to take the 19 strong squad and a few staff whilst also notifying the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) the plane would land at 9:15PM, the time when the game actually had to kick-off. Regulations allowed a 45 minute window. Guess how long the predicted 50 minute journey from the airport to the stadium was? Of course, 50 minutes. 

The team touched ground 13 minutes ahead of schedule and, with the aid of a military and police escort, the bus taking the team to the stadium tore up Ecuadorian roads at 130 km an hour. “It seemed like Fast and Furious seven,” said the Argentine ambassador in Ecuador, Luis Juez, who met team upon their arrival. Here’s your proof:

While trying to fight the panic attack that comes with going 130 km an hour on a mountain road, the team also had to worry about another small detail. Due to the travelling havoc, they didn’t have the time nor the space to bring their uniforms. Luckily, the football planets aligned and Atlético managed to get a hold of the Under 20 Argentine national strip, playing the U-20 South American cup in the same country.

In true ad-hoc fashion a quick change on the bus was due. But gearing up also proved to be a challenge, considering that Atlético players are quite larger than most 19 and 20-year-olds, even if they play for the Argentine U-20 team: “Some of their shirts made it look like they were wearing body painting and their boots looked like baby shoes in their feet” joked the Argentine ambassador.

At 10:09 PM, the squad arrived at the stadium descending onto the pitch less than 10 minutes later to the glee of the 3000 fans eagerly awaiting their arrival. Having overcome so many, the game seemed like the easier obstacle to beat. Said and done, a goal from Fernando Zampedri 15 minutes into the second half gave Atlético the win. 

In the third phase in the tournament the squad will play Junior F.C. , hopefully without too much hassle. You can see the tournament’s full fixture list here.