By Tom Marshall
Monterrey won the Mexican title for the second time in a year after an enthralling final against runners-up Santos that showcased the very best elements of Mexican soccer.
In front of a full Estadio Corona, Santos won 3-2 Thursday after an end-to-end game in which both teams attacked in incessant waves. With Ecuadorian Christian Benitez and Colombian Darwin Quintero on fire in the striking department, it looked like Santos would break the curse of their Argentine manager Ruben Omar Romano who before the game had lost his three previous finals in Mexico. In contrast, Monterrey coach Victor Vucetich faced an uphill task in maintaining his 100 percent record in his four previous Mexican finaos.
Up in the northern city of Monterrey on Sunday for the return leg, the atmosphere seeped through the TV set as the preview to the game commenced and the sun set against the backdrop of Monterrey’s famous La Silla (Saddle) mountain.
The game started at break neck speed with an intensity that you rarely see in the Mexican game. It was reminiscent of watching the English Premier League with tackles flying in and the ball rapidly transferred from one end of the pitch to the other. Both teams fought fiercely in the middle of the park although in the first half it was Monterrey who increasingly looked the more likely to score, with Humberto “Chupete” Suazo nailing one left footed shot against the underside of the crossbar early in the encounter. It was a warning for Santos that the diminutive Chilean was in the mood to cause havoc.
On 28 minutes he started doing just that. Suazo played a neat one-two on the edge of the box before drilling the ball first time into the bottom left corner of the goal. It wasn’t really a chance but Suazo had opened the scoring from nothing. On the other hand Benitez, the Mexican league’s top scorer, was finding it hard work against a physically strong Monterrey defense.
The overall score stood at 3-3 at halftime but Monterrey continued to press forward while Santos were pressed further and further back. You felt at some point that Benitez and Quintero would create something but it was Monterrey who grabbed their second on 71 minutes, Jose Maria Basanta leaping high and nodding in from a corner kick.
Mayhem ensued in the stadium and around Monterrey. The city has been in the press for its increasing role in the drug war, but Sunday it was a welcome change from the negativity.
What was to come brought even more reason to celebrate. Just as Santos were throwing men forward in search of the goal to take the tie to extra-time, Suazo produced the night’s truly memorable momento.
Picking the ball up just over the halfway line, 29-year-old Suazo slalomed past three Santos defenders at pace before lifting a delicate chip over Santos ‘keeper Oswaldo Sanchez (photo). Think Brazilian Ronaldo when he was at PSV or Barcelona. Suazo’s goal was sublime and a fitting end to the game – 3-0 to Monterrey.
Santos could have no complaints on the night, although they can count themselves unlucky to have finished second in both championships this calendar year. Monterrey produced a team performance that will go down in history. It was the best this reporter has ever seen from a Mexican side.
The star was obviously Sauzo and European clubs will undoubtedly be casting a few envious glances. If he leaves it will be to the detriment of Mexican soccer. The same goes for Santos’ Benitez who has excelled. The only sad thing is that neither of them is Mexican. Oh, and the fact that coach Vucetich turned down the post of national team boss earlier this year.