Impoverished former giants America have been drawn to meet last year’s champions, Once Caldas, in Colombia’s Clausura soccer championship quarter-finals in a season when they could be relegated.
America, who used to be rich on the back of drugs cartel money, scraped into the last eight after beating Deportes Tolima 4-1 away over the weekend to finish eighth in the Clausura table.
However, the four-time Copa Libertadores finalists, who have struggled in the lower reaches of the first division since the turn of the century, also face a promotion/relegation playoff.
America, Colombia’s Red Devils, will meet the second division runners-up, who are yet to be decided, in two legs of a playoff once their championship campaign is over.
The Clausura knockout rounds start this weekend with America at home in the first leg on Saturday. If they win the Clausura, which ends just before Christmas, the promotion/relegation playoff will be staged in the last week of next month.
“For a big team like America, it’s shameful to play the promotion/relegation [playoff] because this team can go for bigger things,” coach Wilson Piedrahita was quoted as saying on the independent soccer Web site www.colombia.com/futbol. “At the moment, I’m more interested in the team remaining in the first division.”
Relegation in Colombia is decided by a team’s average points over three seasons and America are second-bottom of this table, which is different from the -championship standings, meaning they have ended up in the playoff.
The Cali-based team will be without defender Andres Cadavid until next season after he got an eight-match ban for a second bad tackle in the championship, this time on Uruguayan Jose Luis Tancredi of Millonarios, who suffered a broken leg.
Cadavid was also fined 635,400 Colombian pesos (US$325) and America face costs including Tancredi’s medical and hospital bills and potential loss of bonuses.
However, they did have their fears allayed that a ruling by the league’s governing body Dimayor might put title holders Atletico Nacional, winners of the Apertura in the first half of the season, into the knockout rounds at their expense.
Dimayor docked Deportes Quindio three points after their coach Fernando Castro gave instructions from behind the bench while serving a suspension during the recent 2-1 win over Nacional, but the points were not handed to their opponents.
America, who reached the Copa Libertadores final three years in a row from 1985 to 1987 and again in 1996, have won 13 Colombian league titles, a national record they share with Millonarios, but only one since 2002.
America were placed on the so-called Clinton List in the 1990s because of their connections with Cali drugs cartels.
Their assets in the US were frozen and other companies were ordered not to do business with the club, plunging them into economic crisis.