Santos Laguna rallied to an impressive triumph over semi-final first-timers Toronto FC to claim their place in the CONCACAF Champions League finals, while Monterrey endured a less taxing last-four affair against Pumas UNAM to ensure they will indeed defend their title.
After a fiercely-contested semi-final first leg between Toronto and Santos Laguna ended all square on a goal apiece, Albiverdes went on to live up to expectations at home in Torreon in the return fixture. Pumas UNAM, on the other hand, always had an uphill battle to climb after Monterrey eased to a 3-0 first-leg win. Despite a draw in the second leg, Los Rayados always looked on course for a return to the finals, and ultimately guaranteed there would be an all-Mexican final for the third time in four years. FIFA.com reviews all the semi-finals action.
Toronto 1-1 Santos Laguna
Monterrey 3-0 Pumas
Santos Laguna 6-2 Toronto
Pumas 1-1 Monterrey
The round replayed
Tempers flared at BMO Field as Toronto FC played host to Santos Laguna in the first leg of their semi-final tie. Santos dominated early possession, and in-form forward Herculez Gomez opened the scoring to record his ninth goal in eight games in all competitions. However, Miguel Aceval levelled soon after for Toronto and neither side was able to find a further breakthrough in the second half. Emotions came to a boil on 77 minutes when Osmar Mares was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Richard Eckersley, but Santos still clung on for the away draw. After the final whistle, Los Albiverdes suffered a further blow, when a post-game quarrel ignited. Carlos Darwin Quintero was shown red for his role in the fracas, setting up for a heated return.
Despite missing Mares and Quintero through suspension, Santos certainly entered the second leg as heavy favourites. The Torreon-based club boast a proud home record, having lost just once at Estadio Nuevo Corona in the Champions League to Cruz Azul in the quarter-finals last season. Shockingly, though, Toronto snatched the lead on 15 minutes when Joao Plata nodded home a goal-line deflection. However, Santos were soon back in it through the most likely of scoring candidates. Gomez pulled things level on aggregate only to see Plata reply with his second, stunning the crowd in Torreon. Gomez was quickly back at it, though, when he received an overhead ball to knock Santos back on level terms.
As things stood at the break, Toronto held the away goals advantage. Santos came out full of intent after the restart, however, intent on reaching CONCACAF Champions League final for the first time in the club's history. To the crowd’s relief, Los Guerreros finally showed their offensive prowess which had seen them score 14 goals in their last three outings in the competition. Juan Pablo Rodriguez struck twice from the spot, while Oribe Peralta and Daniel Luduena had the city of Torreon celebrating Santos’s place in the finals.
It was a very different tale in the other semi-final tie between Monterrey and Pumas UNAM, as the reigning champions claimed an overwhelming 3-0 advantage over Pumas in the first leg. A fine run of form that has seen Monterrey climb to within four points of Mexican Clausura leaders Santos was further confirmed, while Pumas were left in search for just a third win since 15 January. Chilean forward Humberto Suazo conducted a fine offensive display for Los Rayados, creating Miguel Morales’ opener from a free-kick and setting up Aldo De Nigris for a brace.
Monterrey had nearly earned the right to defend their 2011 title, but the daunting task of denying Pumas at Estadio Olimpico still lay ahead. Even though Pumas had accumulated six successive victories over Monterrey at home, it was Los Rayados who went ahead. Following a flashy one-two with Cesar Delgado, Angel Reyna fired home from the edge of the area to further dampen hopes Pumas would be able to reverse the damage already done.
The reigning champions denied Pumas any real chances until the 57th minute when Cesar de la Pena hit the crossbar. It was a sign of things to come as Antonio Garcia claimed an equaliser, but it proved to be a mere consolation. With Pumas unable to muster much more, a fifth match without a win for the Mexico City club proved inevitable. Monterrey, meanwhile, had assured their second successive appearance in the final.
6 – The number of goals joint-goalscoring leaders Oribe Peralta and Herculez Gomez have scored for Santos Laguna this CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
Player of the day
After struggling for first team football following his move Santos Laguna, Herculez Gomez told FIFA.com he was just “patiently waiting” to get his run. Gomez’s chance duly arrived, with Santos coach Benjamin Galindo handing him a string of starts, and the Mexican-American forward repaying that faith. In the semi-final phase of the CONCACAF Champions League, Gomez scored an all-important away goal in the first leg against Toronto before keeping Santos’ dreams alive with two first-half strikes in yesterday’s 6-2 win.
What they said
“It’s a pity that we let them score before half-time. I think that was the breaking point in the game because if you come in up 2-1 you can discuss what to do in the second half,” Toronto FC’s Nick Soolsma.
Have your say
Can Monterrey win the CONCACAF Champions League for a second successive year, or will Santos Laguna claim their first title?