Diego Maradona's new club, Dorados, fell just short of winning the Mexican second-division final and a shot at promotion on Sunday, abruptly ending the Cinderella story of the Argentine legend's latest foray into coaching.
Dorados, from the western state of Sinaloa, lost their second-leg final to Atletico San Luis, who pulled off a 4-2 victory in extra time at home to win the title series 4-3 on aggregate.
Maradona raised eyebrows when it was announced in September he was taking the managing job at struggling Dorados, who were then in 13th place in their 15-team league.
Skeptics questioned what interest the 1986 World Cup champion from Argentina, who has publicly battled drug addiction and alcoholism, could have in moving to a place better known for drug cartels than football.
But he answered his critics with an emphatic series of wins, improbably coaching the team to the championship and within spitting distance of promotion to the first division.
Maradona, 58, had to watch the match from the stands, after being sent off near the end of Dorados's first-leg victory for launching a tirade against the officials when he thought his team should have been awarded a penalty.
His club opened the scoring in the central city of San Luis Potosi, and claimed the lead again in the 57th minute after the hosts equalized.
That second Dorados goal, in particular, elicited a euphoric celebration from El Diego, who used a walkie-talkie throughout the match to give orders to his assistant coach, Luis Islas, on the sideline.
But San Luis tied it up again nine minutes later on a Dorados own goal, and then drove home two more of their own -- the latter in extra time, courtesy of Argentine Leandro Torres -- to claim the match and the series.
- Fan base boosted -
Maradona's arrival has fueled unprecedented interest in the Mexican second division.
A plethora of Maradona scarves, jerseys and other merchandise was on offer outside the stadium ahead of the match.
Ecstatic Dorados fans who had traveled more than 12 hours by car for the match were buoyant going in.
"The team was down on its luck, but since he arrived, he's raised them up enormously," said Daniel Santiago, 28.
Back in Culiacan, the state capital of Sinaloa, the large crowds of fans who had gathered to watch the match in local bars and restaurants were disappointed, but not giving up hope.
"Here's hoping they keep Maradona on and sign some new talent. He's already shown he knows how to do the job right," said one fan.
This would have been the first coaching championship for Maradona, whose managerial career has lacked the sparkle of his playing days.
His previous coaching jobs included teams ranging from the Argentine national side to clubs in his home country and the Middle East.