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Guadalajara nabs automatic bid
by Ridge Mahoney, January 12th, 2009 7AM
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[INTERLIGA] After a frantic Friday night of eight goals concluded group play, Interliga 2009 served up another incredible doubleheader Sunday at Home Depot Center. Both of Sunday's games were decided by penalty kicks, one of which required 13 rounds. In the other, Guadalajara defeated Morelia, 4-2, after a 1-1 tie to claim the automatic Interliga spot in the 2009 Libertadores Cup.

Guadalajara goalkeeper Luis Ernesto Michel blocked Hugo Droguett's penalty kick to end the match and provide it a spot in Group 6 with Lanus (Argentina), Everton (Chile) and Caracas (Venezuela).

Morelia forced penalty kicks despite going down to 10 men and without scoring a goal. Following a bruising, scoreless first half, it took a 1-0 lead in the 58th minute when Carlos Ochoa deflected a Droguett corner kick into his own net. Just eight minutes later, substitute Marco Fabian nailed a 25-yard blast into the net to tie the game, and less than a minute after the restart, Morelia defender Fernando Salazar received a pair of quick yellow cards and was sent off.

Morelia started the shootout badly when Wilson Tiago's shot cleared the bar and sent into the seats. He'd been hit by a plastic bottle thrown from a section of Guadalajara fans angry after the own goal. His miss and Michel's save on Droguett knocked out Morelia.

Pachuca also won its "final," outlasting Atlas, 10-9, in the shootout after squandering a 3-0 halftime lead, but since Guadalajara had posted a better record (2-0-1, 7 points) in group play than had Pachuca (2-1-0, 6 points), it earned the automatic Libertadores spot.

The tired Tuzos, who traveled to Tokyo last month for the FIFA World Club Championship and played their fourth game in nine days Sunday, must play a home and away series against La Universidad de Chile Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 to get a Libertadores spot.

Pachuca rolled out to a 3-0 lead in the first match yet had to scrap frantically in the second half. A Jorge Achucarro header in the 88th minute tied the game, 3-3, and once again Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel Calero rescued his team. He stopped three Atlas penalty kicks in the shootout, including two by Achucarro. U.S. international Jose Francisco Torres played for Pachuca.

"I remained calm," said Calero, a tough customer when it comes to penalty kicks. "I think these scenarios are made for the best goalies in the world to step up and come through. This time it was my turn."

The Mexican Federation (FMF) eliminated the rule that allowed for two 15 minute overtime periods, and after each team had taken 13 penalty kicks, Atlas' courageous comeback fell just short.

"Unfortunately it was my turn to miss," Achucarro said, who was also his team's hero in the final group game, a 4-1 upset of Club America. His injury-time goal eliminated the Aguilas on goal difference. "But I can't dwell on that. I have to keep my head up and look forward. I don't feel like a hero for scoring in the last minute. We lost. Penalty kicks are a lottery."

Edgar Benitez had scored in the 14th and 17th minutes and Christian Gimenez added a third goal in the 38th minute to give Pachuca a 3-0 lead at the half. Los Tuzos gave up a goal by Gonzalo Vargas early in the second half and cut the gap to 3-2 themselves when Leobardo Lopez headed into his own net in the 71st minute.

Jorge Torres Nilo's lofted ball floated to Achucarro gliding behind the Tuzos' back line to produce the goal that forced both teams to endure a most severe case of soccer do-or-die.

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