Dramatic Comeback Sends Santos Through to Liguilla Final

COAHUILA, MEXICO - MARCH 14: Hurculez Gomez of Santos Laguna celebrates a goal with his teammates during a match against the Seattle Sounders as part of the CONCACAF Champions League at Estadio Corona on March 14, 2012 in Coahuila, Mexico. (Photo by Hans Maximo Musielik/Getty Images)

A Sunday of incredible world football drama that began in England finished off in similarly breathtaking fashion as the day came to a close in Mexico. Earlier in the day it was Manchester City scoring two stoppage time goals to win the English Premier League title. Just eleven hours later it was the best team in Mexico, Santos Laguna, who needed to pull off some identical magic against Tigres in order to advance to the Primera championship finals.

After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, defending champions Tigres needed an outright win in Torreon on Sunday to have a shot at a repeat trophy. While the main strength of the team is defense, it was the Tigres attack who came out firing in the second leg.

The match was all Tigres in the early going. Two first half goals from Hector Mancilla had the visitors up and the city of Monterrey salivating over a possible first-ever Clasico Regiomontano league final. With the Tigres backline and goalkeeper Enrique Palos playing exceptionally well, it looked like the two-goal advantage would hold up for 90 minutes.

Late in the match, though, everything changed in the blink of an eye. In a span of just over two minutes, the Torreon crowd transformed from despondence to delirium.

In the 87th minute, a pass from Carlos Darwin Quintero found the head of Oribe Peralta. The ball hit the back of the net, and suddenly Santos had a chance. As the clock ticked down, the two players hooked up again in the 89th minute, as Quintero found an open Peralta on the left side of the box. The Santos striker turned, and with a perfect left-footed blast, beat Palos to tie the score.

From Peralta’s second goal until the final whistle a short time later, the Torreon crowd erupted in celebration. The 2-2 scoreline (3-3 aggregate over the semifinal round) was all that was needed to send Santos through as the better seed.

The improbable ending sets up a rematch of last month’s CONCACAF Champions League final between Santos and Monterrey. It gives Santos a chance at revenge for that result, as well as the Apertura 2010 final, which Monterrey also won at their expense. The final series will also mark the fourth trip Santos has made to the championship in the last five seasons. Those last three trips ended in defeat, but if the finals losing streak is to end, this may just be the team to do it. Buoyed by today’s incredible dramatic comeback victory, this Santos squad has to now believe that absolutely anything is possible.

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