The long trip Atlético Nacional makes to Buenos Aires might be an even longer trip on the way back. It just depends what happens at the tail of a home-and-home in Sudamericana Final 2014.
They need to play hard the whole game, to keep the pressure on River Plate, which beat its big rival Boca Juniors in the semifinals to advance to the championship round. In Medellín, they played only a great first half, when they took a 1-0 lead on an Orlando Berrio goal at the 34-minute mark.
The crowd was going nuts. About 60,000 fans on their feet, cheering at the top of their lungs.
Everyone was so excited. They thought we would get the win and go to Buenos Aires with a big advantage.
I know what you’re thinking: It must’ve been great to catch that game.
Like Robin Williams’ character Sean said in Good Will Hunting…
Ok, let’s be real upfront. I wasn’t having a drink with my future wife.
The idea was to go to the game, to watch Atlético Nacional face River Plate in the first of a home-and-home to determine the South American champion in the Sudamericana Final 2014, the continent’s second of two international tournaments. The second game is at 5:30 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday, December 10.
I negotiated the price down to 140,000 pesos (about $70) for a seat at the north end of the stadium, where all the Nacional fans sit. I couldn’t do it. I prefer to sit in the oriental section, around midfield, and those prices were way too high.
The best offer I got from the scalpers was 160,000 pesos (about $80).
If I weren’t about to make a trip to Brazil, perhaps I would have splurged. But I have been to the stadium, Atanasio Giradot, for a big game before, when Nacional played this spring in Copa Libertadores 2014, the biggest international tournament in South America.
What I had never done was watch a big game in one of the city’s best nightlife districts.
I’ve always liked La 70, more than Parque Lleras, so we picked my favorite spot along the popular street: La Charcu.
Most of the seating is on a patio that makes a semicircle around the tiny bar, where they have a great selection of international beers, different selections from places such as Belgium and Germany, with Delirium Tremons, one of my favorites, on the menu.
The food is pretty good too, and I liked the sangria. But by 7 p.m., I was focused on the game.
We had gotten there two hours earlier, to secure a seat and a table with a good view of the TV. My friend David asked, “It seems like all the action is at the other end” of La 70. The north end was full of food and T-shirt vendors, and people busting firecrackers.
I assured him the madness would soon arrive at our end.
It did, about 6:30 p.m., and by game time the hinchas were ready. Every bar, restaurant and tienda with a TV was full along La 70.
They understand what’s at stake.
A win in the Sudamericana Final 2014 will give Nacional only its second-ever international title, the first being when it won Copa Libertadores in 1989. And a win would make Nacional the only Colombian club team with two international titles. (Once Caldas made a surprising run to win the Copa Libertadores title in 2008.)
This is why everyone had so much spirit as Nacional came out aggressive and nearly scored twice before finally getting the back corner of the goal with only 10 minutes left in the first half.
On the same note, it’s why the crowd got noticeably calmer after the goal, when Nacional was obviously either a little winded or just trying to go into the half with a lead, probably a combination of both.
My friend Natalia complained about it. I told her they should be ready in the second half, that the rest at halftime would refresh them.
I was wrong.
Nacional came out slow again, and River was aggressive, eventually tying the game when Leonardo Pisculichui scored midway through the second half.
That got the attention of the Nacional players, but by then it was too late. The game ended in a tie.
I wonder what the Nacional players will think about during the long trip to Buenos Aires. I just hope they’re ready because if they’re not the return trip home might include a lot of silence and blank empty stares out the window.