Diego Maradona’s Dorados played a 1-1 draw Thursday in the first leg of the Mexican second-division finals, setting up a do-or-die last match of the season against rivals, Atletico San Luis.
The Argentine great will now have to coach the club to an away victory Sunday to win the league title and force San Luis into a playoff for promotion to the first division.
“We’re groggy, but it wasn’t a knockout,” Maradona said after the match, in which Dorados led most of the way before the late equalizer.
“It’s too bad, because the boys put in a tremendous effort.”
Maradona, 58, took the coaching job at the Sinaloa-based club in September 2018 — amusing skeptics who questioned why the 1986 World Cup winner, who has publicly battled various addictions, would move to a place better known for drug cartels than football.
However, he has answered his critics by coaching the struggling club to the brink of promotion.
Dorados, who were in 13th place in their 15-team division when Maradona took over, staged a comeback to reach the fall season finals in December, losing to San Luis 4-3 on aggregate.
Now it is the spring season, and the same two clubs have reached the finals again — with Dorados looking to claim revenge and force their rivals into a playoff to decide which team rises to the first division.
Dorados began this season at the bottom of the table again, as Maradona recovered from surgery for a gastric hemorrhage in Buenos Aires in January. But they turned things around after his return to Mexico, and are once again eying the first division.
Maradona celebrated euphorically when Dorados opened the scoring in the sixth minute — a penalty scored by Paraguayan defender Cristian Baez, after the referee called a questionable handball against San Luis.
However, Atletico equalized in the 71st minute with a sleek goal by Juan Castro.
The draw puts Dorados in a must-win position as they head to the central city of San Luis Potosi for Sunday’s second leg.