Unión Española put an end to an 18-year maleficio (curse) by reaching the last-16 of the Copa Libertadores last night with a 2-1 win at home to Bolívar.
Española went into the game at the Estadio Santa Laura knowing they would progress from the group stage for the first time since 1994 with a game to spare if they collected all three points. And thanks to goals from Braulío Leal and Emmanuel Herrera they done exactly that; surprising many simply by qualifying.
The Bolivians started well as they disrupted the rhythm of La Furia Roja but they could not keep the Chileans at bay for too long, Leal, unmarked, flicking in a corner, which in itself was flicked on at the front post by Jorge Ampuero, from inside the six-yard box in the 18th minute.
The lead was doubled with just over 20 minutes remaining in the most unfashionable of fashions. A deep kick from Eduardo Lobos sailed over the Bolívar backline and as the defenders stood and watched Sebastián Jaime bravely hunted the ball down and headed it past the advancing Marcos Argüello leaving Emmanuel Herrera with the simplest of finishes into the empty net. It was the number 9’s 13th goal in 18 games this season.
With seven minutes left on the clock former Cobreloa and Santiago Morning forward Ever Cantero headed in a Jhasmany Campos in-swinging cross to reduce the deficit but Española hung on to record a famous triumph.
In 1994 La Furia Roja were managed by Nelson Acosta when they progressed from a group consisting of Uruguayans Nacional and Defensor Sporting and fellow Chileans Colo Colo. A 2-0 aggregate win over Brazilians Cruzeiro saw Española reach the quarter-finals where they eventually fell to Brazilian giants Sao Paulo who went on to reach the final where, after two legs, they were beaten on penalties by Vélez Sársfield.
Amongst the squad was none other than Unión Española boss José Luis Sierra. And Sierra has challenged his side to win their final group game against Colombians Junior to finish top of the group while helping Universidad Católica in the process.
Cato has to win their remaining game in the altitude of La Paz to have any chance of qualifying but Group 3 has been about Española and their wonderful achievement having come through a two-legged qualifying round with Mexicans Tigre just to reach the group stage.