Cruz Azul sets up dream showdown with America

Posted by Andrea Canales

It took less than ten minutes for the closing match of the Liga MX semi-final between Santos Laguna and Cruz Azul to go from an exercise in near-futility to a total farce.

Before the match even kicked off, Cruz Azul boasted not only a three-goal lead, but a lead of three away goals, thus requiring Santos Laguna to score four in the second-leg without conceding.

That was a lot to ask and soon, a difficult task became close to impossible when a mistake off a defensive clearance practically gifted Los Cementeros the opening goal. Rodolfo Salinas tried steer the ball clear of the Santos area only to instead flick it perfectly to Javier 'Chuletita' Orozco, who didn't waste the opportunity, firing a hard shot past the helpless Oswaldo Sanchez.

At that point, it was all over except for the final whistle. The competitive gusto of the game disappeared quicker than air escaping from a popped balloon. A second goal by Orozco in the 25th minute only added to Santos' humiliation. The club didn't leave the field completely empty-handed, though, as an excellent pass by Felipe Baloy found Andres Renteria near the end of the first half.

Still, with the overall score at 5-1, the players already knew that Cruz Azul had booked a place in the final against America. Surprisingly for a result that was blatantly obvious in the early stages, players on both sides lost their composure in the second half.

Three players were expelled from the match. Darwin Quintero scored a goal for Santos, but used his hand to do it. Baloy was carded out of the game for two cautions, as was Alejandro Vela of Cruz Azul.

Truth be told, the outcome was what many who weren't Santos Laguna fans had hoped for - a final between two clubs steeped in history who were both in top form. Both clubs had played well throughout the season, not only towards the end of the Clausura season, but into the playoffs, often dominating their opponents.

Cruz Azul and Club America share eighteen league titles between them, so both have established a winning tradition. While Club America boasts a top scoring dynamo in Christian "Chucho" Benitez, the attack of Cruz Azul is probably more well-balanced, since the bulk of the scoring is shared by Orozco, Mariano Pavone and Teofilo Gutierrez.

The Cruz Azul fans celebrating in the stands during the first half, as well as the announcers calling the match, were already looking ahead to the championship clash against Club America. Bets and wagers were being placed among friends and family, and even those who weren't putting anything valuable on the line were probably curious about the answers to a few key questions for the final.

Which team has the advantage when the irresistible force that is striker Benitez meets the immovable object of goalkeeper Jesus Corona?

Is Pavone back to full strength after the injury he suffered earlier in the liguilla?

Whose players will prevail if the championship is decided via the penalty spot?

Can Cruz Azul duplicate what they did on the way to their Copa MX victory - clipping the wings of Club America?

Will it be title number nine, or number eleven that is claimed by the winning club?

The countdown to the championship has begun - well, it really started while the ball was still in play during Cruz Azul versus Santos.

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