By Dan Price
Have we seen the last of Ronaldinho in the Liga MX? After the legendary Brazilian was subbed off on the stroke of half-time in Thursday night’s Liguilla semifinal, it certainly seems likely.
Queretaro endured a miserable evening, conceding two soft goals to gift Pachuca a 2-0 lead after just 35 minutes, and then having Ricardo Osorio sent off for a studs-up lunge in the 41st minute.
In the aftermath of the red card Ronaldinho and Sinha were both hauled off, with boss Victor Vucetich throwing on the defensively-minded Miguel Martinez in the 35 year old’s place.
In his post-match press conference, Vucetich - understandably - claimed it was a strategic decision.
"It was a tactical question, we couldn't give anything else away. The fact they didn't score means we are still alive”.
It’s certainly a fair point - Queretaro were much better in the second half and didn’t look like conceding a third, but Ronaldinho certainly didn’t see it that way.
He has been much better in recent weeks, regularly getting on the scoresheet and finally showing glimpses of what Los Gallos Blancos have been paying him so much money for. If anyone was going to pull something magical out of the hat to get the ten men back into the game, it was probably him.
He was visibly furious when he was taken off. Instead of heading to his dugout on the touchline, he went straight down the tunnel behind the goal.
TV cameras caught him angrily refusing to sign an autograph before he got to the dressing room, and midway through the second period he was videoed leaving the ground altogether (though not before he had to embarrassingly return to get something he left behind).
Is that the end of his Mexican adventure? It has been all-but confirmed that he will leave the club this summer, with the MLS or a return to Brazil being his most likely destinations.
Vucetich said the club would deal with the matter internally, but it is hard to see him featuring in the second leg on Sunday afternoon. With Queretaro 2-0 behind and without an away goal they face an uphill struggle to reach the final, meaning the sight of Ronaldinho disappearing into the cool Pachuca night could be the last time we see him grace the league with his presence.
Santos vs Chivas - all action, no goals
Santos Laguna vs Chivas ended 0-0 in the other semi-final - a scarcely believable result given the amount of chances generated by the two sides.
It’s hard to know who the result favours more. Chivas certainly showed they can score goals when needed with their 4-1 demolition of Atlas, but if Santos score first they will be ruing not being able to score an away goal.
Both sides will probably name an unchanged side in the second leg, though after Omar Bravo was taken off so early by Chepo there could be a chance for a surprise start by Aldo de Nigris.
The second leg kicks off at 7pm ET on Sunday.