There are times when, come what may, the headlines of a game of football cling to a certain player. For reasons good or bad, one man stands out in the decisive moments -- and so it was for Brazil international centre-back Dede in the Copa Libertadores quarterfinal that saw Cruzeiro fall to Boca Juniors 3-1 on aggregate.
Commanding in the air, quick across the ground, Dede made his name at the start of the decade with Vasco da Gama. Unusually, Europe was not his ambition, and he swapped Rio de Janeiro for Belo Horizonte when he joined Cruzeiro. Then came a horror run of injuries, a four year spell when he went through a succession of knee operations. This year his comeback has been so successful that he very nearly made it on to the plane for the World Cup, and he has since won a deserved recall to the Brazil squad.
His name made headlines in the first leg against Boca for all the wrong reasons. Cruzeiro were a goal down away from home when he came up for a corner, and smashed his head into Boca keeper Esteban Andrada just after the ball had been cleared. Andrada was a bloody mess -- he played on but it was later revealed that he had broken his jaw. On consultation with VAR, Dede was sent off in a highly controversial decision. Perhaps Dede might have been adjudged to have used excessive force, but the clash of heads seemed entirely accidental. And his absence was clearly a factor in Boca's second goal as the Argentine giants ran out 2-0 winners.
After the game Cruzeiro protested. Reviewing the evidence, CONMEBOL rescinded the red card, meaning that Dede was no longer suspended for the return game. So he lined up at home to Boca on Thursday night - and was sent off once more.
In the second leg, Dede could have no complaints. He is a player with an excellent disciplinary record, but on this occasion he pushed his luck too far.
On the stroke of half-time, Cruzeiro had the ball in the back of the net. A free kick was pushed out by the keeper and turned in by centre forward Hernan Barcos. But Dede had challenged the keeper with a dangerously high foot. The goal was disallowed and Dede was lucky to escape sanction. Early in the second half he attacked a corner with an arm in the keeper's face, and this time picked up a yellow card. Perhaps Cruzeiro were over-concerned with attempting to intimidate reserve Boca keeper Agustin Rossi.
With the likes of the left-footed Thiago Neves -- the only player to score a hat trick in a Libertadores final -- and Uruguay's World Cup midfielder Giorgian De Arrascaeta, Cruzeiro have talent at their disposal. But for an experienced side, they badly lacked the calm necessary to unlock the rival defence. Boca had been a threat in the first half, with Colombian winger Sebastian Villa looking especially dangerous, but they dropped ever deeper, inviting pressure that came especially from set pieces.
It was no surprise, then, that the deadlock was broken from a corner. Just before the hour mark, the ball fell invitingly at the far post for striker Sassa, only just brought off the bench, who swivelled home left footed. The introduction of Sassa sought to solve a problem Cruzeiro had suffered from since the start -- a lack of presence in the penalty area. Now, with the attack reinforced, they had half an hour to search for a second goal and force a penalty shoot out.
But with 10 minutes to go, Dede launched himself late into a tackle and caught winger Cristian Pavon. It was clumsy and desperate rather than malicious, but Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha had no patience left, and out came the red card. As Dede left the field, Cruzeiro's hopes went with him. In stoppage time, Boca once more took advantage of his absence, Ramon Abila glancing a header behind the line for Pavon to equalise the scores on the night, put Boca 3-1 up on aggregate and fire them into the last four.
The semifinals, then, will feature two epic Brazil-Argentina clashes. Boca's great local rivals River Plate will face reigning champions Gremio. Boca will face Palmeiras, who cruised to a 4-0 aggregate win over Colo Colo of Chile, the last team left standing from the rest of the continent.