The CONCACAF Champions League final matchup returns for the Liguilla final with Monterrey facing Santos Laguna.
The Mexican Clausura final matchup was decided on a wild weekend that included a sloppy slugfest in Monterrey and a spectacular comeback in Torreon.
Mexican soccer continues to produce excitement that can hardly be topped anywhere in the world, with obvious deference to the wild turn of events that led Manchester City to the title in the EPL. But that’s the kind of action LMF followers have come to expect.
The semifinals didn’t let fans down over the weekend. After a rather drab rain-soaked evening in Monterrey on Saturday, the Tigres-Santos clash made up for things, providing a back-and-forth thriller complete with the requisite of the day -- a two-goal comeback deep into the match. Though it might not quite have matched City’s miraculous added-time heroics, the game in Torreon had to have been the second best match anywhere on the planet over the weekend.
Here are a few reflections on the semifinals and upcoming final as we head into what is sure to be a spectacular home-and-away for the title:
- The late show by Oribe Peralta on Sunday was simple confirmation of what Santos fans will have believed for some time now: Peralta has become perhaps the most dangerous striker in the LMF. Though his exploits are sometimes dimmed by the sublime talent that surrounds him, Peralta seldom fails to come through big at crunch time.
The next question is where he fits in the national team pecking order. Near the top must be the answer. A summer cameo with the Olympic team would be fully justifiable now -- indeed Luis Tena mentioned in a presser Tuesday that Peralta was on his list of forwards -- especially given Peralta’s role with the U-23s in the leadup to qualifiers. But first, a mouthwatering finals matchup with Humberto Suazo for the title of top striker in the league.
- Many in the northern capital would have loved to see an all-Monterrey final, which was just a few minutes from becoming a reality. But Tigres’ failings at the back finally cost them this time around.
It could also be said that the defending champs were stopped a step short of establishing themselves among the top tier of the league. For now, that echelon belongs to Monterrey and Santos alone. For Tigres to join them will require some defensive work, a run back to the final of the Apertura 2012, and a deep run in international play when they get their shot in CONCACAF Champions at the end of the year.
- Mexico is unique in the first-tier soccer world in its refusal to treat away goals as the end-all-be-all of home and away ties. In just about any other playoff in the world the Santos-Tigres tie would have ended with a victory for Tigres on the basis of away goals.
In Mexico, though, the tie ended all the same (no extra time), but with regular season champion Santos moving on -- just reward for a season of excellence instead of a few minutes of chance. While the CONCACAF and European Champions League international format complicates any changes to the away goals rule, other countries around the world with a playoff system similar to Mexico’s would be well-advised to take head and reward regular season accomplishments.
- With the Warriors through to the final, it's Santos Laguna's turn to end a couple hexes once and for all. The curse of the leader, as it's known in Mexico, is really a simple set of circumstances that make it statistically unlikely that the best team over a 17-game short tournament will then also prevail in a series of home-and-away knockout matches. It may be due to fall.
The second curse to be reckoned with is all Santos’ to break. It has lost two recent finals, including the final of the Apertura 2011 and the CONCACAF Champions League -- to this same Monterrey squad. Three examples, as they say, would make a trend. To end its growing reputation as a bridesmaid, Santos needs no less than to knock off the mighty Rayados, who are peaking at the ideal time.
That these two teams have gotten to this point, no less, while also dominating the concurrent CONCACAF Champions League is testament to the pair’s running superiority over national and regional futbol. It’s the matchup neutrals will have wanted to see, and should make for a tremendously entertaining series.
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