By Gabriel Pessoa
The final round of qualifying matches get underway this week and come Thursday night we will know once and for all the official groups for the 2019 Copa Libertadores. Many of the remaining teams have already had their fair share of memorable moments in the tournament, but without a group stage berth, those memories will mean sweet diddly squat.
Caracas FC (VEN) eliminate Melgar (PER) – Agg: 3-2
Last-gasp Cuesta goal secures Group F berth for Melgar as Caracas bow out in heartbreaking circumstances
Melgar became the first team from the Copa Libertadores qualification phase to stamp its ticket to the competition proper, after edging Caracas FC in a dramatic second leg clash on Tuesday.
Jorge Pautasso's men made heavy work of their two-goal aggregate lead from the first leg as the Venezuelans scored twice either side of the half-time break to level the tie.
However, with the game looking poised to enter extra time, up popped Bernardo Cuesta in the 88th minute to send the Peruvian side through with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Melgar will meet Palmeiras, San Lorenzo and Junior in Group F.
Palestino (CHI) vs. Talleres Cordoba (ARG) – Agg: 2-2
Wednesday at 5:30pm ET live on beIN SPORTS (ENG)
Last week’s clash in Cordoba was perhaps the most evenly contested matchup in round three of the qualifiers - the Argentines took a two-goal lead in the first half, but a spirited fightback from the visitors saw the game end in a 2-2 draw.
Talleres fans could have been forgiven for prematurely making travel arrangements for the group stage after Juan Ramirez’s second goal, but nothing is ever that simple in the Copa Libertadores. An unfortunate error by defender Enzo Diaz helped Palestino get on the scoreboard and triggered a comeback from the Chilean club.
Entrenamiento de hoy pensando en nuestro próximo partido🇵🇸✅⚽️ pic.twitter.com/6abhhIpL2V— CD Palestino SADP (@CDPalestinoSADP) February 25, 2019
Palestino have the advantage of taking two precious away goals into the second leg, however, this is the same Talleres Cordoba that went to Sao Paulo and knocked out the storied Brazilian club. La T’s fanbase travels in numbers, so expect to see plenty of supporter in the away stand come Wednesday.
Atletico Mineiro (BRA) vs. Defensor Sporting (URU) – Agg: 2-0
Wednesday at 7:20pm ET live on beIN SPORTS (SPA)
For the second time in these Copa Libertadores qualifiers, Atletico Mineiro visited the Luis Franzini Stadium - the first being when they took on Danubio in the second stage - and for the second time, the club from Belo Horizonte, Brazil left with two away goals in its pocket.
Galo was the superior team in the first leg - the tournament’s top goalscorer, Ricardo Oliveira, may not have shown the brilliance of previous matches, but his supporting cast was there to help.
The only real chances Defensor Sporting had on goal came through mistakes in the back from the Brazilians.
Estos son los 20 Violetas que partieron hacia Belo Horizonte para enfrentar este día miércoles a @Atletico por el encuentro de vuelta de la fase 3 de @Libertadores 🏆#SiempreDefensor pic.twitter.com/1ed1lOgtC7— Defensor Sporting (@DefensorSp) February 25, 2019
One lingering bad habit Atletico Mineiro has struggled to shake is its inability to stay focused: Galo seems to lose any and all sense of urgency once it scores. This behavior may have worked so far in qualifying stages, but it will surely be one Levir Culpi’s men will need to address moving on in the season.
That being said, the Brazilian club is almost unbeatable at the Independencia Stadium. Defensor Sporting will have to hope for a lot of things to wrong for its hosts if it wants a group stage berth.
Atletico Nacional (COL) vs. Libertad (PAR) – Agg: 0-1
Thursday at 7:20pm ET Live on beIN SPORTS (SPA)
Libertad defended home territory and secured a 1-0 victory in the first leg.
Both sides display an entertaining brand of soccer and it’s a shame we’ll have to see one of them bow out on Thursday.
Atletico Nacional fans are still scratching their heads, wondering how in the world Striker Omar Duarte was able to hit the post on that wide-open attempt at goal.
Datos:— Emanuel Cardozo 🇵🇾 (@emanuelpy_) February 24, 2019
💹 📝 📈 📊 🏆 🇵🇾
Leonel Álvarez en Libertad
20 partidos dirigidos 🕺 ⚽
10 victorias 👏
5 empates 🤝
5 derrotas 👎
58% de efectividad💹 📈
40 goles a favor ⚽ 🥅
24 goles en contra 🥅 ⚽ pic.twitter.com/pHQxDuMngO
Libertad’s Colombian coach Leonel Alvarez – he of the flowing locks – returns to his old hunting ground, the Atanasio Girardot Stadium, where he plied his trade for El Verde in the late ‘80s. His hair may still be stuck in that time, but his heart now belongs to the Paraguayan outfit. The Libertad’s manager will not hesitate to crush Nacional’s Libertadores hopes early.