A critical refereeing error ended the Europa League's best Cinderella run (Video)

A Red Bull Salzburg player confronts the referee as Marseille players celebrate their semifinal victory. (Getty)

There was no better underdog story in European soccer this season than Red Bull Salzburg. The Austrian champions killed off giant after giant, relatively speaking, on their way to the Europa League semifinals. Real Sociedad, Borussia Dortmund and Lazio perished in their wake.

But on Thursday, with one more stunner a very real possibility, Salzburg’s Cinderella run was cut short in devastatingly cruel fashion.

Having come back from a 2-0 deficit to level their semifinal tie with Marseille, 2-2 on aggregate, the underdogs were five minutes away from penalties. They were, essentially, five minutes and a coin flip away from the final of a competition that expected to rid itself of them in the round of 32.

In the 115th minute, though, Marseille’s Andre Zambo Anguissa fired a half-volley that deflected off his own player and behind for what should have been a goal kick. Instead, the referee gave a corner.

And on that corner …

Salzburg players immediately protested the initial decision. They protested after the goal as well. The vast majority of the stadium was irate as Marseille players, substitutes and staff celebrated in the corner.

And the ire never abated. Minutes later, Salzburg’s Amadou Haidara was sent off for a second yellow after a frustration-driven elbow. Manager Marco Rose fumed at the fourth official on the touchline. He then had to restrain Haidara as the player exited the field.

The goal effectively ended the game, because it left Salzburg needing two goals. Hope turned into fury. At the final whistle, players surrounded the referee. Rose screamed at him. So did assistants Other players gave pieces of their mind to the fourth official. Others were inconsolable.

It was a clear mistake. But it was irreversible. It was a terrible way for an amazing run to end.

Marseille, meanwhile, will advance to play Atletico Madrid in the final.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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