Even a Hollywood scriptwriter would have been hard pressed to pack more drama into Sunday’s gripping finale of the 2010 Mexican Bicentenario season. After playing out a 0-0 draw to tie 2-2 on aggregate in the play-off final, Santos Laguna and Toluca went head to head from the penalty spot to decide who would take the title.
Stealing into a 3-1 lead, Los Guerreros looked to have things sewn up, needing to convert only one of their last two spot-kicks to win their fourth championship of the professional era. Both efforts went wide, however, with Toluca keeping their cool to move ahead 4-3 before keeper Alfredo Talavera denied Fernando Arce to seal league crown No10 for Los Diablos.
It’s winning titles that makes you a big club, not having a lot of supporters. Nobody can question the fact Los Diablos are a big club now.
Though the margin of victory was as slim as could be, Toluca are worthy champions, their young coach Jose Manuel de la Torre having built an effective unit around the talented trio of Hector Mancilla, Antonio Naelson (better known as Sinha) and Nestor Calderon.
Toluca’s triumph was made all the more notable by their faltering start to the regular season. Failing to record a single win in their opening five games, the men in red went back to basics, opting for solidity rather than flair. The switch worked, with De la Torre’s side suffering only one more defeat and going the last 13 games unbeaten.
As for Santos, they will no doubt be reflecting long and hard on their failure to convert their dominant position in Sunday’s shootout into some precious silverware. Few would have bemoaned them that reward. Serving up some spectacular football at the season’s end, they more than held their own in the play-off final only for luck to desert them at the last.
Guadalajara dominated the season’s early exchanges. Spurred on by the goals of livewire striker Javier El Chicharito Hernandez, Chivas won their first eight games and led the standings until five of their star performers were called away on Mexico duty. Though they then struggled to maintain their form on the domestic front, the much-weakened side has impressed in the Copa Libertadores, having made it through to the semi-finals.
After ending the regular season with more points than any of the play-off qualifiers, the previously impressive Monterrey inexplicably lost their way against Pachuca in the quarter-finals. Cruz Azul fans were also nonplussed by their side’s unpredictable form. Runners-up last year, Los Cementeros failed to make the last eight on this occasion.
The big names
Unlike other seasons, no one player dominated the 2010 Bicentenario. That said nobody made quite the impact that Hernandez did in the first few weeks. “Little Pea” hit ten goals in 11 games to finish the term as joint top scorer and would surely have added to that impressive haul had he not been asked to join Mexico’s pre-South Africa 2010 training camp.
The young international striker shared the limelight with two unlikely stars: Peruvian goalgetter Johan Fano and American discovery Herculez Gomez. Elsewhere, Sinha was his usual creative self for Toluca, while Hector Mancilla’s goals proved invaluable for the new champions, as did the elasticity of shootout hero Talavera between the posts.
The leading marksmen
The achievements of Hernandez, Fano and Gomez in scoring ten goals apiece were noteworthy for different reasons. El Chicarito did not play a full season, Fano scored half of struggling Atlante’s paltry tally for the campaign, and the American front man struck most of his goals from the bench. Gomez was rewarded for efforts with a place in Bob Bradley’s provisional 30-man squad for South Africa 2010.
Did you know?
In winning their tenth Mexican championship, Toluca have now drawn level with America and are within just one title success of Guadalajara, the most successful club in the land.
What they said
“It’s winning titles that makes you a big club, not having a lot of supporters. Nobody can question the fact Los Diablos are a big club now,” Toluca coach Jose Manuel de la Torre.
The honours board
Semi-finalists: Monarcas Morelia and Pachuca
10 goals: Javier Hernandez, Johan Fano, Herculez Gomez
9: Jackson Martinez
8: Hector Mancilla