By Tom Marshall

Billed as the “Battle of the North,” Santos and Monterrey lock horns Thursday in the 1st leg of the final of Mexico’s Apertura 2010 in a final that is delicately balanced on paper.

For Santos, the memory of last years final still hurts. Captain Oswaldo Sanchez and coach Ruben Omar Romano have both said this week that being just one penalty kick away from winning the title six months ago and then losing has made the team stronger and more united.
A physically strong team from the unfashionable city of Torreon, Coahuila, Santos finished the regular season just two points behind Monterrey, having let in one goal less than their northern rival.
Monterrey scored one more over the 17 games.

The statistics indicate there will be little in the game and Monterrey’s coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has said that the sides know each other very well.

Both teams have quality in abundance all over the park and were by some way the superior side in their respective semi-finals. October 23, Monterrey got the better of Santos in Torreon 2-1, although Santos had the vast majority of the possession giving little indication about how this series will play out. At home though, Santos are particularly strong and have only lost twice this calendar year.

On the bench though, it’s Monterrey who have the edge. Vucetich has won every final he’s participated in while Argentine Romano has lost three finals in Mexico.

Regular followers of Mexican soccer will know that the Mexican league’s two best strikers will be on display in this final: Santos’ Christian Benitez and Monterrey’s Humberto “Chupete” Suazo.

Ecuadorian Benitez has taken the league by storm this year scoring 14 goals in the regular season. He’s gone on to net two in the liguilla. Alongside him, striking partner Darwin Quintero has hit form at just the right time and has three goals in the playoffs. Between the Ecuadorian and Colombian Quintero, Santos has a fearsome strike force that need only the slightest of opportunity at goal to make the opponents suffer. Strong and fast, the pair could be the best in the country.

Rivalling them though are Monterrey’s Humberto “Chupete” Suazo and Aldo de Nigris who scored 16 between them in the regular season. The classic little and large combination, Suazo feeds off de Nigris’ physical presence. It’s been a big surprise that Chilean Suazo never made it when he tried his luck in Spain. Without any doubt though, Monterrey have been the beneficiaries.

With such attacking talent on display the game should be a good show of what the Mexican league can offer at its best.

The Beer Cup

Also gaining a lot of interest around this game is who the clubs are owned by. Monterrey is backed by FEMSA and Santos by Grupo Modelo. Between them, the two companies make up 90 percent of Mexico’s beer market. FEMSA produces beers like Tecate, Dos Equis and Sol; Grupo Modelo makes Corona, Modelo and Pacifico.
The games sub context is therefore a battle of the breweries.

Santos v Monterrey – Thurs, Dec 2, 2010 @ 8 p.m. in Torreon

Monterrey v Santos – Sun, Dec 5, 2010 @ 6 p.m. in MTY

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