Saprissa spring surprise, spoil all-Mexican party
UNAM Pumas of Mexico City put five past DC United in a thrilling win for the home fans on 13 April. The 6-1 aggregate result sees them into next month's 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup final series. And not far away, in Nuevo Leon, visitors Deportivo Saprissa sent Pumas' blood brothers, CF Monterrey, tumbling out of the competition on penalties.
Following a scintillating 2-2 tangle in the first semi-final leg at Saprissa's home ground in San Jose, Monterrey were expected to take the second with ease at home in the comfy confines of their Estadio Tecnologico.
Earlier in the day Saprissa suffered what seemed a bad omen, when they were levied a 10,000 USD fine by CONCACAF for crowd trouble during last week's first leg. But Hernan Medford's men dug deep to spoil what would have been a dream final for Mexican football fans by forcing another draw and pulling off a shock result in the penalty shootout.
Things looked to be going Monterrey's way in the 41st minute when Carlos Casartelli put a well-placed shot past the Saprissa keeper to open the scoring. But a penalty in minute 72 from veteran Ronald Gomez - who also scored from the spot in the first leg - levelled the score. If road goals counted double in case of a draw - as they do in the UEFA Champions League - Monterrey would have won the day thanks to the two they scored in San Jose last week. But with a pure aggregate system, and after a period of nervy extra time where Casartelli spurned two golden chances to ice the match for Monterrey, penalties were required. Saprissa kept their nerve to win 5-3 - much to the stunned dismay of the home crowd.
UNAM goal avalanche
There was to be no romantic drama in Mexico City, though, as two-time defending Mexican champions UNAM Pumas bossed their semi-final second leg clash with MLS toppers DC United from the offing. Over 7000 feet up in the dizzying altitude of the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, United lacked the pace and punch that earned them a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg last week at RFK. The 5-0 result on the night (6-1 on aggregate) told a tale of pure Mexican dominance.
Coming off a 1-0 win over Puebla at the weekend that coach Hugo Sanchez went so far as to call the "worst Pumas performance all year," UNAM had a big point to prove against the Americans. And with three forwards in the starting eleven, they roared into attack early.
It took them only 12 minutes to open the scoring by way of an identical move to the one that saw United take the lead in the first leg. After a lighting-quick counter-attack and an inch-perfect cross from Diego Alonso, Argentine striker Bruno Marioni - back just in time from injury - made no mistake to nod home from close range.
Even without Leandro Augusto, DC's constant tormenter from the first leg, Pumas were in firm control. And though Alecko Eskandarian managed a shot off the post, the visitors were fortunate not to concede a handful more before the interval.
After the two sides emerged from the changing rooms, the second half quickly degenerated into a one-sided affair. Joaquin Botero added two fine goals as DC were reduced to ten men following the expulsion of Mike Petke in the 70th minute. A fourth from David Toledo in minute 85 and a fifth just seconds before the final whistle from Mexican national team hit man Jaime Lozano, sealed United's woeful journey south and Pumas' profound delight.
The CONCACAF Champions Cup final will take place over two legs on 4 May (in San Jose) and 11 May (in Mexico City). Pumas have taken the continental honours on three occasions (all in the 1980's) while Saprissa, beaten finalists in last year's all-Tico showdown with Alajuelense, won top honours in 1993 and 1995.
The winner will move on to play at the global showpiece FIFA Club World Championship Toyota Cup to be held in Japan from 11-18 December.