3 minutes. 3 minutes plus stoppage time. Over the past two years, Tuca Ferretti had converted the Monterrey club into a citadel in front of their goal mouth. Santos needed 2 goals to advance to the final, but Tigres had turned repeatedly turned them back. After holding the league's most powerful offense to one measly goal for 177 minutes, another 3+ minutes should be nothing more than procedural for Tigres.
What made it even more rewarding, was that at the other end of those 3 minutes was a date with their cross-town rivals in the final, in what would have not only been the biggest Monterrey Derby in history, but also a chance to repeat as MFL champs.
Two men, Carlos Darwin Quintero and Oribe Peralta, put an emphatic end to all that in a span of 120 seconds.
The Goal Scientist became a lab assistant for "el cepillo", feeding Peralta on both of the goals that vaulted Santos past Tigres into their 4th league final in 5 years and 3rd final overall in the 2011-12 soccer calendar year.
Perhaps now Peralta will finally start getting the credit he so richly deserves.
It is not as if Peralta's wonder-season has come out of the blue. It just took him a while to get going. He had shown glimpses of his goal-scoring talent, but nothing like this.
The Torreon native bounced around in the early part of his career with several teams, but it wasn't until Santos loaned him to Jaguares that Peralta started to find his scoring stroke. He bagged 12 goals in two seasons in the Chiapan jungle before being recalled to the Comarca Lagunera. He responded with a solid 9 goal season, helping Santos make it all the way to the final in the 2010 Clausura.
He followed that with a disappointing effort, only notching 1 goal, and then only 4 in the two seasons that followed. Nevertheless, Santos sold their goal-scorer, Chucho Benitez, to America - the league's most expensive transfer ever.
With Benitez gone, it was up to Peralta to step up the challenge.
He responded by scoring 13 goals, despite missing 3 weeks for the PanAm games (where he ended up as leading scorer with 6), and Santos made it to another final before succumbing to Tigres. Peralta also helped Santos rwach the CCL final, another tournament where he finished as top scorer (tied with Humberto Suazo).
Peralta scored another nine goals in the 2012 Clausura regular season as Santos claimed the top seed in the liguilla. And it has been the liguilla where Peralta has really taken off. He was a migraine headache for the Jaguares defense and never let Chiapas get the upper hand.
And then he had his late-game heroics against Tigres. And Santos is in the final. For those keeping score at home, Peralta has scored 40, forty! goals in all competitions this year. Those are Cabinho, Cardozo, Hermosillo, and Borgetti numbers.
Oribe Peralta? El Cepillo? "Horrible"? Believe it.
Despite all the net ripping, Peralta remains centered, humble and is quick to deflect any accolades coming his way. "The truth is, I am not a hero. We are 11 players, and it it takes all of us. It was my turn to score the goals, but they were a consequence of the play of all my teammates."
It would be hard to remember another post-season that has been as entertaining as this one, which, of course, is made all the better that the league's top 2 teams will indeed be facing each other for the spoils. I cannot tell you how long it has been since that has happened.
As for Peralta, his dream season is not over. In addition to the final, he should expect a call-up for Mexico's upcoming friendlies and qualifiers. He also would have to be the leader in the clubhouse to nab one of the 3 overage player tickets for this summer's Olympics in England.
Monterrey hosts Santos Thursday night, with the 2nd leg to be played in Torreon Sunday night.