By Louis Smith.
After a 1-1 first-leg draw between Independiente Medellin (DIM) and Deportivo Pereira in the final of the Finalización stage of Colombia’s 2022 domestic season, it was all still to play for in Wednesday evening’s title-deciding second leg at the Estadio Hernán Ramírez Villegas.
Pereira came into the game seeking not only their first Colombian domestic top-flight title but their first major piece of silverware. The closest they came to silverware was in last season’s Copa Colombia where they finished runners-up after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Atlético Nacional.
On the other hand, DIM were searching for their seventh league title, having last won the competition in 2016.
After earning a decent result away from home, Pereira came into the game immediately on the front foot as some quick intricate play saw Leider Berrio test DIM keeper Andres Mosquera inside the first 30 seconds. He was able to make a comfortable save.
Pereira’s Jhonny Vasquez tried to catch Mosquera out with a long-range effort, which went sailing over the bar.
The pattern of play in the first half saw Pereira dominate the ball with 69% possession compared to their opponent’s 31%. As well as this, the hosts had all of the chances with 12 shots and for on target. Whilst doing this, they managed to restrict DIM from having any efforts at goal.
When they lost the ball, Pereira worked tirelessly to win the ball back instantly, with high intense pressure from their attackers, giving the DIM defenders no time to relax.
The second half of the first half saw a battle of yellow cards.
First, DIM’s Diber Cambindo was shown a yellow for a poor tackle on Vasquez. It was followed by Pereira’s Juan Zuluaga mistiming a tackle on DIM’s Argentine captain, Adrian Arregui, which saw Zuluaga’s teammate, Yulian Gomez, complain to the referee about the challenge. He said a little too much so was cautioned.
Jhonny Vasquez put in a wild challenge to ensure the sides went in level not just on the score line, but on cards too.
In truth, it was a first half dominated by Pereira, who failed to find a clear-cut chance to give them the lead. On their return to the pitch for the second half, they were greeted with flares and fireworks in their club’s colours of yellow and red, as well as, a glorious cacophony of noise.
Despite the support, it was DIM who started the better of the two, an early free-kick saw Andres Cadavid hit a powerful strike to Harlen Castillo’s left who made a strong save at his first point of action in the match.
A counterattack from Pereira saw the best moment of the game. Brayan Muñiz saw himself one of one with Mosquera who made a strong save to deny him, Leonardo Castro picked up the pieces but a strong Mosquera stood brave to cancel him out, third time lucky? Not in this case as Berrio scuffed his shot meaning Pereira wasted a trio of glorious opportunities.
Other than substitute, Daniel Torres, firing an effort wide from the edge of the box and four yellow cards, the second half was relativity quiet in terms of chances with both sides cancelling each other out, as both feared losing. Which meant the outcome of the final would be settled by a penalty shootout.
Nervous Pereira fans were biting their nails as penalties began — at least the team would be taking the penalties in front of their fans.
Cadavid, the only Independiente Medellin player to have a shot on target in the first half was first up and was once again denied by Castillo, giving Carlos Ramírez a chance to give the hosts an early advantage.
Ramirez hit the post, which was followed by another strong save by Castillo who this time denied DIM captain Arregui.
Leonardo Castro stepped up and was the first one to make the net ripple with a powerful penalty straight down the middle.
Castro’s penalty started a trend as the following five penalties were scored meaning, Berrio, who had earlier scuffed a shot to fire Pereira in the lead, had a chance to create history. This time, Berrio confidently smashed the ball into the net to write his name forever into the Deportivo Pereira history books.
On the pitch, his teammates were either crying tears of joy, reduced to their knees or chasing after him.
December 7, 2022, will be a day that lives long in the memory of not just fans of Pereira, but fans of Colombian football.