CARSON, Calif. - Omar Bravo scored a dramatic stoppage-time goal to give Guadalajara a 1-1 draw with Necaxa, a result that sent the Copa Libertadores semifinalists from a year ago back to within a game of the tournament.
Bravo scored in the second of three stoppage-time minutes, when all hope had seemingly vanished. With Chivas mere minutes away from crashing out of InterLiga 2006, Bravo's better-late-than-never tally sent the club to Sunday's finals.
Necaxa's early goal - a 13th-minute tally from Ariel Lopez - appeared good enough to send that club through to the finals. Necaxa even went down a man in the 41st minute but that did not seem to matter until the game's dying moments.
Chivas and Tigres - the two clubs who qualified to Libertadores from the InterLiga a year ago - went through from Group B as Necaxa and Cruz Azul were ousted.
Necaxa got on the board in the 13th minute when striker Ariel Lopez headed home a cross from Alfredo Moreno. For Necaxa, it was a repeat of last season as Lopez led the club in goals with eight in the Apertura 2005 campaign.
Chivas struggled to piece together possession inside Necaxa's third as white-clad Necaxa defenders bottled up Chivas players aggressively inside the box.
Necaxa went a man down after Rodolfo Espinoza was sent off in the 41st minute. Chivas and Necaxa players nearly got into an altercation in the 41st minute when Espinoza swung wildly and made contact with an official. Espinoza was sent off with a straight red card.
But even playing 11-on-10 did not help Chivas much initially. Necaxa still held off Chivas' valiant goal-scoring efforts. For the second half, Chivas coach Hans Westerhof took out left midfielder Ramon Morales for Sergio Santana, the longtime Mexican league striker, in search of the elusive goal.
Omar Bravo nearly equalized in the 55th minute but his close-range shot rattled off the crossbar. Carlos Salcido repeated the feat five minutes later when his 30-yard shot clanged off the crossbar as well.
Adolfo Bautista was denied on a point-blank shot as Necaxa keeper Ivan Vazquez stopped him from six yards out in the 73rd minute. Chivas appeared increasingly frustrated with their own lack of finishing. Despite dominating possession in the second half, Chivas were either too far off the mark in both their passing and shooting.
Vazquez came up huge in the 79th minute yet again. Edwin Borboa shook himself loose inside the area and fired a shot from about 15 yards out. The ball deflected off a Necaxa defender and was destined for the back of the net. However, Vazquez got enough of the ball to push it over the crossbar despite having been caught leaning the wrong way.
In the game's dying moments, Manuel Sol sent a booming cross form the right side where it was flicked on to the far post toward Bravo. The national team striker dived and knocked the ball past Vazquez, who had made every conceivable save possible until that moment. The sellout crowd erupted as Chivas players celebrated wildly on the sideline.
Luis Bueno is a contributor to InterLiga.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the league or its teams.
NECAXA - GUADALAJARA 1:1 (1:0)
01.10.2006: Carson, California; The Home Depot Center
NEC- Ariel Lopez (13')
GUA- Omar Bravo (93+)
NEC: 1- Ivan Vazquez (GK), 5- Victor Gutierrez, 6- Salvador Cabrera, 13- Luis Hernandez, 8- Fabian Pena, 14- Mario Perez, 17- Fabiano Pereira, 20- Jose Alberto Hernandez (19- Tressor Moreno, 84'), 21- Rodolfo Espinosa, 10- Alfredo Moreno (15- Miguel Perez, 46'), 11- Ariel Lopez (16- Carlos Gonzalez, 66')
DNP: 33- Aldo Diaz (GK), 18- Victor Ruiz, 24- Mario Padilla, 69- Luis A. Valdez
Head coach: Enrique Lopez
GUA: 1- Oswaldo Sanchez (GK), 3- Francisco J. Rodríguez, 4- Hector Reynoso (16- Edwin Borboa, 70'), 5- Carlos Salcido, 2- Diego Martinez, 7- Gonzalo Pineda, 11- Ramon Morales (21-Sergio Santana, 46'), 15- Manuel Sol, 9- Omar Bravo, 10- Alberto Medina, 100- Adolfo Bautista
DNP: 28- Alfredo Talavera (GK), 14- Alejandro Vela, 18- Christian Armas, 19- Jonny Magallon, 45- Jorge Barrera
Head coach: Hans Westerhoff
Cingular Man of the Match: Carlos Salcido (Guadalajara)
NEC - Lopez (31'), Cabrera (41')
GUA - Rodríguez (10'), Sanchez (20'), Reynoso (52'), Pineda (87'), Sol (89'), Bravo (94+)
NEC - Espinosa (41')
NEC GUA Goal Attempts 3 23 Saves 9 0 Fouls 15 14 Corners 1 0 Offsides 2 1
R: Kevin Stott (USA)
A1: Chris Stickland (USA)
A2: George Gansner (USA)
FO: Baldomero Toledo (USA)