It was third time lucky for Atletico Junior as after twice losing championship finals to Once Caldas – in 2003 and 2009 – they finally overcame their regular tormentors 4-2 on penalties to secure the 2011 Torneo Finalizacion title on Wednesday evening.
Junior, leading 3-2 from the first leg, travelled to Manizales knowing that a draw would be sufficient to win a seventh title in their history, but went behind in first half stoppage time when John Pajoy finished neatly after being well found by Mario Gonzalez.
In a tense but well matched and high tempo affair, Junior levelled the scores on the night on the hour mark: veteran playmaker Giovanni Hernandez producing a lovely first time pass to Carlos Bacca, who prodded the ball past Juan Henao for his 2oth goal of the year.
Once Caldas retook the lead ten minutes later thanks to a superb headed goal from Paraguayan striker Guillermo Beltran and that proved to be the final goal of the ninety minutes – a 2-1 victory for Caldas taking the tie to penalties.
Despite enjoying home support it was Caldas who faltered in the shootout and it was remarkably their two goalscorers from normal time who quickly turned from heroes to villains. Pajoy saw a poorly placed penalty easily saved by Sebastian Viera, while Beltran, tasked with keeping his side’s chances alive at 4-2, hit the post, thus handing victory to a Junior side who converted all four of their penalties.
“This is a reward for the team’s hard work, sacrifice and conviction,” Bacca told reporters after the match. “This is for all the fans who have always believed in us.”
Junior’s title victory gives them the Colombia 2 slot in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, which places them in Group 3 alongside Bolivar of Bolivia, Chile 2 and the winner of the preliminary round match between Chile 3 and Tigres of Mexico. Once Caldas also qualify by virtue of having the best overall record in 2011, albeit only for the preliminary round where they face a tough test against 2010 winners Internacional of Brazil.
Goals + Penalties