COAHUILA, MEXICO - MARCH 14: Players of Santos Laguna celebrate a scored goal against the Seattle Sounders during a match as part of the CONCACAF Champions League at Estadio Corona on March 14, 2012 in Coahuila, Mexico. (Photo by Hans Maximo Musielik/Getty Images)
The Ghost of Championship Failures Past no longer stalks the field at Estadio Corona. In front of a packed house on Sunday night, Santos finally ended a two-year stretch of finals futility with a decisive 2-1 win over archrivals Monterrey.
The win capped off a remarkable run by Santos through the Clausura 2012 postseason. The road to championship glory included an annihilation of the pesky superlider curse, a miracle comeback against defending champion Tigres, and a victory over finals mastermind Victor Manuel Vucetich. There were stiff challenges at every turn, but Santos weathered the gauntlet, and in the process shed the weighty baggage of recent club history.
After three finals appearances in two years with no titles to show for it, Santos knew their performance on Sunday would have to be different. In the three previous championship losses, Santos was outscored by a 6-1 margin in the deciding game. This time out things would be different. Just minutes into Sunday’s match, the established script of finals defeat was torn to shreds.
In the sixth minute, Carlos Darwin Quintero stole possession at midfield and with lightning speed brought the ball to the edge of the penalty area. There he laid the ball off to Daniel Luduena at the top of the box. The Argentinian midfielder stumbled through the Monterrey defense, nearly all the way to the endline, before unleashing a right-footed blast to beat goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.
In one instant the two teams' fortunes had shifted. The Torreon crowd was no longer a cauldron of nervous energy. It was now mighty Monterrey with their backs against the wall. The home fans suddenly had reason to believe that this Santos team was ready to take the final step.
In the second half the knockout blow came, and again the veteran Luduena was involved. A series of quick, sharp passes between Luduena and Oribe Peralta opened up a crack in the middle of the Monterrey defense. Peralta dribbled into the box, and while falling over somehow got off a perfectly placed shot to beat Orozco.
A late goal from Monterrey striker Aldo de Nigris led to a nerve-wracked final ten minutes for the home crowd. But this time Santos had the strength to hang on. As the final whistle sounded, the Santos faithful erupted in euphoria -- the pain of finals lost washed away in a cleansing sea of green.