RIO DE JANEIRO, April 17 (Reuters) - Mexico's America staggered into the last 16 of the Libertadores Cup after pulling off an astonishing survival act in their 2-0 defeat by Universidad Catolica on Thursday.
America pipped Catolica on goals scored after the Chileans, needing a three-goal win to qualify, went 1-0 ahead after halftime, hit the post, scored again in the 90th minute and laid siege to the Mexican goal for four pulsating minutes of stoppage time.
America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made three saves in an extraordinary finale to the Group Five game in Santiago, booking his team's place after the sides finished level on points and goal difference in Group Five.
Argentina's River Plate, who beat Peruvian champions Deportivo San Martin 5-0 in Buenos Aires, topped the group with 12 points, three ahead of America and Catolica.
The drama began in Chile when midfielder Gary Medel gave Catolica the lead eight minutes after halftime.
Catolica then hit the post twice in succession while America striker Salvador Cabanas was denied an equaliser by a superb save from Jose Maria Buljubasich.
Catolica appeared to have run out of steam until midfielder Dario Bottinelli curled a free kick in off the post in the 90th minute.
The Chileans then burst into life, forcing Ochoa to save two headers before brilliantly tipping another effort from Eros Rios over the crossbar with the last move of the game.
Uruguayan striker Sebastian Abreu scored a hat-trick as twice former champions River demolished San Martin in Buenos Aires. Radamel Falcao Garcia and Andres Rios shared the other goals for Diego Simeone's team.