The angel of Monterrey
With 54 minutes gone in the second-leg of their 2009 Mexican Apertura play-off final against Cruz Azul, Monterrey’s Humberto Suazo picked the ball up on the right, looked up and swung an inch-perfect cross to the far post. Waiting there was strike partner Aldo de Nigris, who rose high above his marker to power the ball past stranded Cementero keeper Jesus Corona.
Mindful of the importance of the goal, one that put Los Rayados 5-3 ahead on aggregate, De Nigris ran towards the stands and lifted up his striped jersey to reveal a T-shirt bearing a picture of his late brother Antonio on the front and the legend "AdeN, 9-11" on the back. Such was De Nigris' emotional tribute to his sibling, who died suddenly last month. Drawing strength from tragedy, Aldo has proved the inspiration behind his side’s unstoppable title surge, paying homage to his guardian angel with a flurry of decisive goals.
Defiant in the face of tragedy
The older of the De Nigris brothers, the 31-year-old Antonio died on 16 November in Greece, where he had moved to earlier this year to join Larissa. His death was nowhere felt more keenly than at Monterrey, the club where he scored 37 goals in 65 matches to earn the adulation of the Rayados fans, blazing a trail that Aldo has followed in style.
After bidding him an emotional farewell alongside his other brother Alfonso at the Estadio Tecnologico just a few days later, Aldo fought back the tears to score the only goal of the first-leg of Monterrey’s play-off quarter-final against America, the best possible response to the most tragic of events.
At the end of the game the tearful goalscorer spoke of his emotions. "Tono is my angel. I know he wanted me to score today. He had been watching all the games this season back in Greece and I know he was here today. I'm going to dedicate this goal and my life to him because he was an example to everyone."
That was not the only dedication of the day, however, with the Rayados players, directors and fans all vowing to do everything in their power to win the championship for the late striker.
Monterrey were an irresistible force from then on. Deploying a masterful gameplan, Victor Manuel Vucetich's side held America to a 1-1 draw in the return leg at the Estadio Azteca to advance to the semi-finals. Waiting for them there were the formidable Toluca, who had topped the standings in the regular season.
Los Rayados were not about to be overawed and recorded a 2-0 win in the first leg at their home fortress, with that man De Nigris scoring both goals, the celebrations for which featured yet more tributes to his beloved brother.
A 1-1 draw in the return set up a final clash with another top side in Cruz Azul. Things did not go according to plan in the opening 45 minutes at the Tecnologico, with the home side finding themselves 3-1 down at the break. Seemingly down and out, Monterrey defied logic by staging a memorable and unlikely comeback, running out 4-3 winners to the delight of their disbelieving fans.
Aldo's opening goal in the second leg virtually assured the championship and set the seal on the most emotional of campaigns, the last words of which went to the indefatigable front man. "My brother is my angel and he will always be with me, for the rest of my life. Antonio, thank you a thousand times."