The Estadio Corona in Torreon, Mexico was the site was for the final match of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. And what a thriller it turned out to be.
The fixture saw the visiting Montreal Impact come in with a two-goal advantage on aggregate to take on a powerful Santos Laguna side.
Santos brought out all of the big guns on their roster for this one, in hopes of rescuing a semifinal birth from the USL side.
The stadium was rocking as the match kicked off with the Santos faithful doing their best to give the home side the same type of support the Montreal received in the first leg. Both teams looked sloppy in the early going, but it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a fast-paced match.
Just when it seemed that Montreal would weather the early storm of pressure from Santos, the home side struck in the 15th through Christian Benitez. The Montreal midfield allowed far too much space for a cross from the left flank and the Ecuadorian made no mistake on the header, pounding it back across the frame and into the net.
Benitez was busy again just moments later. The striker collected a ball in the box and laid it off to an onrushing teammate, but the shot was blocked well by the Impact defense.
The pressure from the home side continued into the 20th minute when Matias Vuoso got his head on another well struck cross. Impact ‘keeper Matt Jordan was on his toes and collected the ball well, but Santos was certainly threatening to collect a second.
The game turned suddenly in the 24th when a major gaffe from the Santos back line allowed Roberto Brown to level the match.
A lazy back pass slipped between Santos’ center backs and Brown reacted first. The Panamanian slid between the defenders and beat Oswaldo Sanchez with ease.
With the game level the onus was all on the home side, who were now in need of three goals to earn a spot in the semifinals.
To Santos’ credit they almost pulled one back in the 31st when a low cross came in across the face of goal. But Vuoso could not get a touch on it before the Montreal defense cleared.
Santos took another hit in the 34th when Sanchez had to leave the match with injury. The loss of the number one ‘keeper cost the home side dearly just moments later when Eduardo Sebrango wrong-footed Sanchez’s replacement and gave Montreal a 2-1 lead.
Vuoso tried to pull the goal back in the 40th with a nice hit from just outside the box, but Jordan was there once again and pushed the shot wide of the post.
Jordan came up with another brilliant save in the 42nd when Santos got a touch on a floated ball in just in front of the Montreal net. Moments later claims for a handball in the box came from the home team, but the referee saw otherwise and the match went to the break with Montreal leading 2-1.
Santos came out hot in the second half with Daniel Luduena ripping a shot from the left corner of the box that sailed just past the far post. The pressure continued with Sanotos creating a couple more half chances before the 50th minute, but the Montreal defense held firm.
The match equalizer would come in the 54th from Vuoso when Jordan made his first mistake of the match. The Montreal ‘keeper spilled a ball from the right back in front of his net and Vuoso tapped home the goal.
Second half substitute Carlos Quintero came very close to reclaiming the lead for the home side minutes later.
The Columbian’s riffle of a shot bounced off the woodwork after having Jordan clearly beaten and the rebound was saved well.
The visitors managed to slow the pace in the following ten minutes, but the Impact were clearly becoming more content to defend with ten men behind the ball.
Quintero continued to trouble the Montreal back line with his dazzling skills on the ball. In the 70th it looked as though the Columbian had scored to give Santos the lead, but he was judged to be in an offside position.
In the 75th Santos finally got the much deserved goal when Quintero split two defenders with a deft pass.
The ball was redirected from the touchline back in front of goal and Vuoso was there to collect his second tally of the night.
Over the final fifteen minutes, Santos put on an attacking clinic with slashing runs, well struck crosses, and brilliant passing combinations.
The great attacking play almost paid off in the 89th when Santos had a sure goal blocked by Christian Benitez, who could not get out of the shot's way in time.
Benitez would make amends in stoppage time when his cross set up Santos for their fourth goal of the night, courtesy of Quintero.
But the job was not yet done.
Quintero came to the rescue again at the death of the match when he snuck in behind the Montreal defense and finished in fine form, completing an amazing comeback victory for the home side.
The final goal sent Montreal packing from the competition and assured that Mexico would be well represented in the semifinals.
Allen Ramsey, Goal.com