PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (Reuters) - Gremio survived intense pressure and a string of favourable VAR decisions to grab an equaliser with two minutes remaining and rescue a 1-1 draw against Flamengo in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final on Wednesday.
The visitors from Rio had three goals chalked off in a game they controlled almost throughout but were sunk at the last when Pepe nipped in at the back post to put away an inviting low cross from the right.
The 51,000 mostly-Gremio fans went wild and the relief was palpable for a team that had been second best to a Flamengo side looking to win the Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions league, for the first time since 1981.
“It was an important goal, even more so as it was my first goal in the Libertadores,” said Pepe, the 22-year left winger who had only been on the pitch six minutes before scoring.
“The coach told me to be alert because I could go on and change the game. We lost a goal but we were cool and patient.”
Bruno Henrique had put Flamengo ahead in the 69th minute with a back post header that went in off the woodwork.
It was no more than the visitors deserved after seeing two first half goals chalked off by the VAR, first when Everton Ribeiro saw his 25-meter shot ruled out for an off-the-ball foul by Gabriel Barbosa and then three minutes later when Barbosa himself was adjudged to be offside.
Barbosa hit the net again in the 80th minute but the goal was once again ruled out for offside, only for Pepe to pounce and equalise at the other end.
The second leg will take place in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 23.
The winner of the all-Brazilian tie will play either River Plate or Boca Juniors in the final in Santiago, Chile on Nov. 23.
River won the first leg of their semi-final 2-0 on Tuesday.
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty