It was the Copa Libertadores at its best and worst; at once a showcase of exciting, skillful football, yet laced with an element of nastiness that bubbled up to the surface in the final minutes.
In the 87th minute of Tuesday’s Group 3 match between Argentina’s Arsenal de Sarandi and Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro, Arsenal defender Diego Braghieri committed the sort of foul that might easily have resulted in a shattered femur. His target: Atletico playmaker and former FIFA World Footballer of the Year, Ronaldinho.
Not only did Braghieri go studs up into Ronaldinho’s shin, but his challenge was also two-footed and propelled by the leap he took after spotting the Brazilian on the edge of the box.
It was as obvious a red-card offense as there has ever been, but Uruguayan referee Martin Vazquez didn’t even take out his book, and Ronaldinho—thankfully, and somehow, unhurt—missed the ensuing penalty.
By then, however, Atletico had built up a 5-2 lead and in so doing, had become the first ever Brazilian team to have scored five times away to an Argentine side in the Libertadores. Former Manchester City striker Jo scored once, Diego Tardelli added another and 20-year-old wonderkid Bernard bagged a sensational hat-trick.
Ronaldinho had a hand in all three goals.
On the first, scored in the eighth minute, he delivered an arced ball over the defense for Bernard to volley into the back of the net with his left foot. Nine minutes after the restart, he played a defense-splitting ball to his teammate, who somehow worked his way between the two central defenders, before applying only a single, delicate touch to deflect the ball goalward. And, just five minutes later, he had his own effort stopped by goalkeeper Cristian Campestrini, although Bernard was on hand to bang in the rebound.
After two matches in Group 3, Atletico Mineiro are atop the standings with six point, while Arsenal are dead last in the bracket with a pair of losses.