Monterrey rally for regional hat-trick

Santos Laguna looked to be on their way to winning a first-ever CONCACAF Champions League crown with a 2-0 lead away from home against Monterrey and only 30 minutes left on the clock. But the home side showed the courage of true champions to roar back and score four in a topsy-turvy second half that sees Los Rayados win their third straight regional crown and book their place in a third consecutive FIFA Club World Cup.

With a 0-0 result last week at Santos’ Estadio Corona, the second leg at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnologico began at a frenetic pace. There were half-chances and penalty appeals at both ends of the pitch inside the first ten minutes. Monterrey settled into a rhythm after that end-to-end opening with Chilean striker Humberto Suazo establishing himself as the danger-man for the home side. The squat attacker burst into the penalty area after 12 minutes, but his brave header from livewire winger Jesus Corona’s cross sailed just over the bar.

Dropping deep to collect the ball in midfield and dictate the patterns of play, Suazo had another chance from a free-kick some forty yards away from the Santos Laguna goal in the 17th minute. He sizzled in a strike that once again had Oswaldo Sanchez scrambling as the ball slipped up and over the bar. Suazo then tested the keeper again two minutes later with a cheeky little snap-shot from just inside the corner of the area.

Midway through the opening period, however, Santos snapped slowly – almost imperceptibly – to life. With precious few chances and limited possession up to that point, the visitors nearly took a shock lead on the half-hour mark when Osmar Mares tried a chip from deep in midfield that went just wide and high of Jonathan Orozco’s top corner.

A few minutes later, Mares’ free-kick was nodded home by Ivan Estrada, but the celebrations were cut short by a linesman’s flag. There would be no stopping the visitors’ delight in the 38th minute, however, when Darwin Quintero – just seconds after barely missing on the end of a lightning-quick counter-attack – put Santos Laguna into the lead with a crucial away goal. Monterrey were unable to clear their lines after a hopeful cross from the right and Edgar Lugo poked the ball back into the danger-zone, where the speedy and predatory Quintero tapped home his sixth goal of the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League.

A second half for the ages

Santos didn’t waste any time doubling their lead at the start of the second half. Panama international centre-back Felipe Baloy flung himself at a Mares corner-kick, sending the ball bobbling off the pitch and inside the post to make the score 2-0. A deafening hush fell over the home crowd as Monterrey, now needing three goals to win their third consecutive Champions League crown, hit out in search of a foothold.  

Old reliable striker Aldo De Nigris provided a glimpse of hope on the hour-mark, volleying home elegantly from Corona’s cross and sparking wild celebrations in the stands. It marked the beginning of an improbable come-back, the stuff of champions and legend.

The home side drew level in the 84th minute when second-half substitute Neri Cardozo followed up on a Suazo corner-kick to hit home from outside the area and make the scoreline 2-2. And just three minutes later, and three minutes from the end of the game, Monterrey grabbed the goal they needed to finally tip the balance, De Nigris heading home brilliantly from a Suazo free-kick to send the home crowd into spasms of ecstasy.

Suazo added one of his own in stoppage time to make it, somehow, 4-2 as Monterrey become only the second side in history to be crowned champions of CONCACAF three times in a row. Los Rayados will now contest their straight third FIFA Club World Cup, which will take place in Morocco in December.