History has been made as Atlas won their first title since 1951 after a 1-0 win over Leon in regulation forced a penalty kick shootout in which they won 4-3. Atlas gets their first title in 70 years, their second ever in club history. They got a deserved win after being the clearly dominant team, pushed by a passionate fan base however with some plays that might have been seen as controversial. Leon gave a good performance up until they got scored on, and with their plan out the window, they never were able to get back into the match.
The first half started with the surprise that Osvaldo Rodriguez wasn’t in the starting lineup even when coming back from suspension, with Jose Ramirez keeping his spot. Atlas came out with their normal lineup in front of the raucous home crowd. A couple of minutes in, someone from the crowd threw a smoke bomb that forced the referee to stop the match and give out a warning. A minute later Atlas had a good chance when a cross by Luis Reyes into the area was just missed by Julian Quiñones, who failed to connect on what would have been a great opportunity. Leon had a good opportunity when Victor Davila got the ball in the area and got off a strong left footed shot that went wide. There was a clash between Jesus Angulo and Angel Mena that forced Angulo to get medical attention. Atlas missed an incredible chance when Quiñones got a one-on-one and lobbed the ball over Leon’s goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota, but the ball hit the post instead of the empty net. The rebound was cleared by Leon’s defense, although it ended with a free kick just outside the area for Atlas. On the ensuing free kick, Reyes got a good shot but Cota was well placed to get the save. Off of a corner kick, fans kept throwing stuff at Leon’s player, forcing another warning. Leon was playing well in being very defensive and holding on to the ball, trying to play with Atlas’ desperation. Atlas came close again when Quiñones tried to lower the ball in the area but it went too long and Cota was able to punch it away, and a Leon defender was able to clear it before Julio Furch got to it. The last minutes of the half had Atlas going all out for that goal while Leon sat back in their area. The halftime whistle blew and Leon had done their goal of keeping it scoreless.
The second half started with neither team making a change. A minute into the match Atlas had a great opportunity when Quiñones got a ball in the area and tripped over Cota, but got the ball past him, however Quiñones fell and wasn’t able to get to the ball. Had he been able to, it would have allowed him an empty net opportunity but the Leon defense was able to clear the ball. A great play happened when Quiñones got the ball in the area and made a great pass to Aldo Rocha, who got off a great shot that forced Cota to make a save. In the ensuing corner kick, the ball fell to Jeremy Marquez, who got off a left footed shot that Aldo Rocha was able to jump and deflect it past Cota for the 1-0 lead and drawing the series level. Replays showed that he looked to be offside in the play, but the referee looked to be too intimidated to call it. Leon subbed out Santiago Colombatto and Omar Fernandez for Emanuel Gigliotti and Luis Montes. After a couple of minutes, Julian Quiñones fell injured and asked for medical attention. He was eventually subbed out for Christopher Trejo. David Barbosa got into the area and got off a great shot that forced Cota to make a great save. Luis Reyes got into the area and got off a shot that Cota saved with his leg. Leon subbed out Ramiro Gonzalez for Osvaldo Rodriguez. Leon now seemed totally overwhelmed, as the Atlas goal boosted their momentum. Atlas subbed out Jeremy Marquez for Edgar Zaldivar. Atlas would miss an incredible chance when Trejo got off a great shot that bounced off of the post, and the ball went to Zaldivar, who had a wide open net and incredibly headed the ball right back to Cota. It was one of the biggest misses in Mexican football history, a play that should go all around the world in as bad a miss as possible in football. Leon then had a good chance when Davila got the ball in the area, but his pass just missed Gigliotti. Leon subbed out Jean Meneses for Elias Hernandez. Davila had a great chance once again when he got into the area, but his shot was deflected wide. There was more controversy when Mena fell in the area and asked for a penalty, but the referee didn’t give it. The play continued and Zaldivar got off a shot that was saved by Cota. The protests by Leon players ended with a red card to the subbed out Meneses. Atlas then subbed out the injured Anderson Santamaria for Anibal Chala. Then after a foul by Gigliotti made a foul, he got a second yellow card and thus Leon were down to 10 players. The first yellow card was dubious to say the least, which guaranteed the controversy for after the match. It would be the last play and the game would go to extra time.
Extra time should have had an Atlas team going all out for their title with a man advantage over a Leon team that would sit back trying to get to the penalty kick shootout, but Atlas started out very slowly. Atlas had a good opportunity, but the ball rolled too far from Chala and Cota was able to get to it. A cross into the area just missed the Atlas player, and Cota was right there to get to it. It would be the last play of the 1st half of extra time.
The second half of extra time started with Leon subbing out Victor Davila and Ivan Rodriguez for Santiago Ormeño and Fernando Navarro. Leon had their best chance when Navarro found a wide open Elias Hernandez in the area, but his shot was saved by Atlas’ goalkeeper Camilo Vargas, who made a good job of coming out and pressuring Hernandez. Luis Reyes looked to have been injured and needed to get medical attention. The injured Reyes and Jairo Torres were then subbed out for Gaddi Aguirre and Brayan Garnica. Leon had more possession during this half as Atlas looked to be tired and also nervous, the last subs doing a good job of worrying them. at the end of added time, the game went to penalties.
Like the last time Atlas played a final, the series ended with a penalty shootout, and with Atlas facing a goalkeeper whose last name starts with C (Hernan Cristante in 1999 and Rodolfo Cota in 2021). Leon stepped up to take the first kick. Elias Hernandez took it and scored it past Vargas for the 1-0. Atlas then stepped up to take the penalty and Jesus Angulo scored with a left footed shot for the 1-1. Fernando Navarro took the second kick for Leon, and his right footed kick was stopped by Vargas for the first miss of the match. Aldo Rocha then took the next penalty and hit the post to keep the game at 1-1. Angel Mena took the next kick and scored it with a left footed shot for the 2-1. Edgar Zaldivar took the next kick, trying to make up for his bad miss, and although Cota got to it, Zaldivar’s shot was too strong and it went in for the 2-2. William Tesillo then took the next kick and with a good left footed shot, scored the 3-2. Christopher Trejo then took the next penalty and easily placed it past Cota for the 3-3. Luis Montes took the next one and his left footed shot was saved by Vargas. Julio Furch then stepped up to take the penalty, and with everything on the line placed his right footed shot past Cota to give Atlas their first title since 1951.
It was an historic night for Mexican football, as Atlas won their first tournament in 70 years. Few things show how important it is for this team to get another title than the fact their largest supporters’ group is called “Barra 51” for the only time they had won the title in 1951. Now Atlas fans finally have another title. Thousands of Atlas fans lived and died and couldn’t get to see this moment, but tonight their fans finally do. Players like the Atlas team of the 1970s or the Atlas team of the 1990s that gave us Rafael Marquez tried and couldn’t get it done. Argentine coach Diego Cocca was part of those teams, as he came in to replace Marquez and was part of the team that made the Semifinals a year later but failed against Toluca. Now Cocca writes his name in history along with players like Furch, Quiñones, Rocha, Angulo, Santamaria and Vargas. More importantly for them is that they continued their tradition of working with youth players that came through their system with players like Jairo Torres, Christopher Trejo, David Barbosa, Ozziel Herrera, and Jeremy Marquez. It was an Atlas team that played a great series with Leon, who also gave a great season especially for it being the first for new coach Ariel Holan. Still it was all Atlas who closed out a great 2021 that had Cruz Azul get their first title since 1997 and the ended the most famous drought in Mexican football “a lo Atlas”.