After one of the most evenly balanced finals in the history of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, América lifted the continental crown last night with a 2-1 win over Toluca in the most dramatic of fashions. The game was, in effect, the story of two finals: one, the 180 minutes of regulation time that had failed to separate the sides over the course of two legs; and the second, 30 pulsating minutes of extra-time that made it all worthwhile for 40,000 passionate home supporters at the Azteca Stadium.
A complete transformation
When Toluca's central defender Paulo da Silva finally broke the deadlock at the start of the first period of extra time (0-1, 93'), all the signs were that it would be the only goal of the game. The Red Devils, Mexico's reigning league champions, are past masters at defending leads and looked to have the composure and experience to shut up shop at the Azteca Stadium.
However, they had not counted on a spirited and impassioned comeback from the home side, who decided to risk all in search of an equaliser. Twice their Brazilian striker Kléber looked like the man to do it, but twice he shot wide when he should have done better.
Finally, in added time at the end of the first period, the Eagles got the equaliser they had desperately been searching for. A shot from Argentine player Christian Giménez struck Kléber and finished in the back of the Toluca net (1-1, 105+2'). The striker wheeled away in celebration as the home side surrounded the match official, claiming the Brazilian had strayed into an offside position. Unlikely hero
The drama continued unabated in the second period, with end-to-end action signalling both sides' intention to go for glory. Such was the level of commitment that a bout of pushing and shoving between two of the stars of the night, Toluca's Paulo Da Silva and América's Christian Giménez, saw the pair sent off.
However, there were others eager to step into the limelight, not least the Eagles' keeper Armando Navarrete. Normally second choice to Guillermo Ochoa, the custodian saved his side with a truly memorable block from a Carlos Esquivel header on 112 minutes.
The ensuing break was to make a hero of another unsung member of the side, central defender Duilio Davino, who had joined the front men on the counter-attack. Picking up a precise cross from Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the defender shot for goal only to see his effort come back off the legs of José Manuel Cruzalta. Davino would make no mistake second time round, steering the ball home to the delight of the home fans (2-1, 113').
The joyous celebrations in the stands only got louder as the remaining seven minutes, plus another four for stoppages, finally ticked away. The final whistle was the signal for euphoric scenes on the pitch as the club savoured their glittering double prize: a continental championship, plus the chance to take on the cream of world football at the FIFA Club World Cup this December in Japan.