How fitting was it that it was Oribe Peralta that put away the clincher for Santos' 4th title, and second since 2008? For those keeping score at home, it was his 42nd goal of the 2011-12 soccer season. He was a little nicked, so Benjamin Galindo decided to take him off, allowing the Santos faithful to give him one last ovation. Instead of a position swap, like Herculez Gomez, for example, Benjamin Galindo opted for Chato Rodriguez, a holding midfielder.
It was time to park the bus.
But then Aldo de Nigris pulled one back. Santos had only a gassed goal scientist to try and score on the counter, the Rodriguez sub proved ineffective, and then they lost their top defender, Felipe Baloy, who was bleeding after knocking heads on an incoming cross.
Santos had been here before. They'd had their hands on the prize only to have it cruelly ripped away. Would it happen again? Baloy's cut was stemmed, but he still had spots on his shirt. He still could not re-enter with blood on the jersey. There was Peralta on the sidelines, working furiously to remove the blood from Baloy's uniform.
The man does it all.
Baloy made it back, and Santos survived the last 10 harrowing minutes to claim their fourth title.
The final between Monterrey, and their powerful offense, was always going to be determined by whose defense would crack the most. When they met two years ago in the final, Monterrey's offense, particularly, Humberto Suazo, proved too much for Santos' back line. Last night, in Torreon, though, Felipe Baloy led a Santos defense that turned away Monterrey countless times and did not allow a bona fide scoring chance until late in the game despite controlling possession for the majority of the game. The Panamanian more than made up for his silly foul that allowed Monterrey to tie the first leg in second half stoppage time.
While Santos' defense was somewhat of a question mark coming in to the game. No one doubted their offense. By the time Santos had lifted the trophy, 11 of Santos' 12 playoff goals had been scored by three players. Peralta, of course, got the bulk with 6. Carlos Darwin Quintero, the Goal Scientist, added a pair, and the other three were scored by Daniel Ludueña. "El hachita", who has long been one of Mexico's best foreign players, went scoreless in the season, but picked the right time to get hot. It was his early goal that set the tone for the second leg. And he came ridiculously close to emphatically sealing the win with a 50 yard blast in stoppage time.
The win also put an end to one of Mexican soccer's great winning streaks. Monterrey coach, Victor Vucetich had won the 12 finals his teams had reached over the course of his career, including 2 league and 2 CCL crowns with Monterrey. The 13th title, though will have to wait for another time. It might come sooner than later, Monterrey is still loaded.
It is not often that the Mexican Liguilla rewards the most worthy team with a championship, but this time, Santos, who had played the best soccer, scored the most goals, and gotten the most points throughout the season, were recompensed with a foot-high, shiny bauble for their efforts.