Mexico's Santos with a point to prove
No one could deny that Santos Laguna have been one of the most successful clubs in Mexico in recent times. Perennial contenders for the national league, Los Albiverdes have also shown their potential at regional level, having repeatedly lorded it over their rivals during the group phases of recent CONCACAF Champions League tournaments.
It would also be fair to say that, over the last few years, precious few clubs have frustrated their supporters quite as much as the Torreon-based outfit. Having finished runners-up in the Mexican league three times since 2010 and consistently failed to outlast their local rivals on the continental stage, Los Guerreros have a debt to settle with their fans. The club would dearly love to make the first instalment with victory over compatriots Monterrey in the Champions League final, set to be played over two legs on 18 and 25 April.
Revenge and rivalry
Victory over Los Rayados would not only help Santos Laguna shake off the tag of perpetual runners-up, it would also be sweet revenge for the defeat suffered at the hands of the same opponents in the final of Mexico’s Apertura league championship in 2010.
Carlos Morales, a holding midfielder with Los Albiverdes, still has painful memories of that fixture and is determined to turn the tables this time. “Of course it’s a revenge game,” he said to FIFA.com in the build-up to the final, “so why look at it any other way? We all know what happened in 2010 and it still pains us. The first leg is going to be vital. We’ll need to give everything and be at our best, then hope for a great finale in the home leg in Torreon. I feel the team is in very good shape and that we have a great group of players. We’re striving to make some significant achievements.”
And as if there was not enough already riding on the continental final, bragging rights in the north of Mexico are also on the line. For many years, Monterrey and their city neighbours Tigres dominated the region’s footballing landscape, but in recent times Santos have proven themselves more than capable of matching the two northern heavyweights. Small wonder then that there is no love lost between fans of the three teams.
“The truth is that it’s about more than an international final,” said Albiverde defender Aaron Galindo. “Our opponents are Monterrey, so for the people of Torreon that makes it a clasico norteno. We’re thrilled by the prospect of winning a berth at an international competition [the FIFA Club World Cup]. For the club, the business and, of course, us players, it matters a great deal,” added the former Mexico international.
The cherry on the cake
Santos’ march to the final has been nothing if not impressive. After narrowly beating Olimpia of Honduras in the preliminary round, Los Guerreros were comfortable winners of a Group B that also included MLS side Colorado Rapids, Isidro Metapan from El Salvador and Honduran outfit Real Espana. In the quarter-finals and semis, the Mexican side had their problems on the road against Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC respectively, before easing through on each occasion thanks to emphatic second-leg wins at home.
With Monterrey in the opposite corner for the final, Santos can expect their toughest game yet. They also know that if they are to shake off their reputation for foundering when it matters most they cannot afford to ease off for a second, whether in Monterrey this Wednesday or at home in the second leg. Argentinian attacking midfielder Daniel Luduena, one of the key members of the team, explained his side’s motivation ahead of the showdown: “For four or five years Santos have been doing consistently well, and this is the path they have to follow. Unfortunately, we’ve had to endure the pain of lost finals, but we’re always looking to get revenge. That will be the case in this time.”
And so Los Guerreros are preparing for what will be one of the biggest games in their history, intent on coming away from the Estadio Tecnologico with a good enough result to face their compatriots with confidence in front of their passionate home support. The final word went to captain Felipe Baloy, who summed up the feeling in the Santos camp: “We’re going to put in a great performance. We can’t wait to play this final… and win it, of course.”