Hidalgo-based Pachuca edged out fellow Mexican side Chivas of Guadalajara by way of a penalty shootout on Wednesday night to be crowned club champions of CONCACAF for 2007 and book passage to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December. After a 2-2 draw in last week's first leg at the Jalisco Stadium, a packed crowd at the Estadio Hidalgo witnessed a tense 120 minutes of scoreless football followed by a nerve-jangling shootout that was finally tipped Pachuca's way on the eighth kick by second-half substitute Luis Angel Landin.
The game began with some cagey exchanges as both sides refused to commit too much to attack. Then, in the 23rd minute, an irresistible onslaught from the home side began. First, Juan Carlos Cacho got on the end of a great cross from Marvin Cabrera only to head down into the ground and eventually into the grateful arms of Luis Michel.
Seven minutes later, Chivas - unable to bring attackers Adolfo Bofo Bautista and Omar Bravo into the mix in any significant way - found themselves on the back foot again. This time, Fernando Salazar nearly steered his half volley home from eight yards after a defensive mix-up by the Chivas rearguard.
From there on out, Luis Michel pulled off a string of fabulous saves to keep Pachuca at bay despite heavy pressure from the home side. In the 33rd minute, he dove brilliantly to deny a header from Carlos Rodriguez before twice sprawling to rescue Chivas in the last ten minutes. The first attempt came from Christian Gimenez and the second from the livewire Cacho - both were sizzling long-distance efforts and required all of the keeper's athleticism to keep them out.
With 11 corners in the first half to Chivas' zero, the pattern of attack was squarely with the home side.
After finally earning their first corner eight minutes into the second half, Francisco Javier Rodriguez had the best chance of the match for the visiting side. After finding some space in the penalty area, the defender could only head over the bar to a sigh of relief from the home fans.
Chivas began to turn the tide and gain a foothold as the second half progressed. On the hour mark a swift counter-attack saw Bautista send a long ball through to the rampaging Bravo. But the scorer of two goals in the first leg and regular Mexican international could only steer his shot well wide on the doorstep.
Too tight to call
The Hidalgo side marched right up the other end just one minute later, though, and Gabriel Caballero saw his goal-bound shot cleared off the line by Rodriguez when Luis Michel found himself dragged out of position by some wonderful approach work from Andres Chitiva.
The visitors struck back in the 70th minute as the match picked up an end-to-end flavour, forcing Miguel Calero into a fine save. After a cheeky heel flick from Bautista in midfield, Diego Martinez collected the ball and struck a fierce shot from distance that the Colombian had to scramble to keep out.
Both sides went close to winning it in the fading moments, but extra-time beckoned.
The first period passed without incident and when the second proved just as fruitless, a penalty shootout was required to settle the outcome.
After the first six kicks from each side hit the back of the net, Chivas' Alberto Medina stepped up nervously and hammered against the post to a roar from the crowd. The cheer of relief that greeted second-half substitute Landin's winner was nothing short of explosive as Pachuca and their fans wildly celebrated a second CONCACAF Champions Cup title.
"It's an important thing to reach the Club World Cup, but we put in the hard work and we deserve it," winning coach Enrique Meza remarked after the match. "After the World Cup, the Club World Cup is one of the biggest tournaments in the world and I am thrilled to be going to Japan," added Chitiva.
Pachuca, who also won the Champions Cup in 2002, will now head to Japan in December as CONCACAF representatives. Runners-up Chivas will have to be content with a spot at the next instalment of the Copa Sudamericana.