TOLUCA, Mexico, CMC – Cruz Azul withstood late pressure from Toluca, to earn a thrilling 1-1 draw and lift the prized CONCACAF Champions League trophy at the Estadio Nemesio Díez on Wednesday night.
The visitors grabbed the lead through Mariano Pavone’s clinical finish four minutes before half-time, before substitute Edgar Benitez brought Toluca level with a left-footed volley in the 63rd minute, to set up a tense finish in the decisive second leg of the all-Mexican final.
With the hosts in search of the crucial second goal, Cruz Azul’s defence stood firm in the latter stages of the game to earn their side the stalemate and the all-important result, based on the away-goals rule.
The victory for Cruz Azul handed them their sixth CONCACAF Champions League title and their first major title in 17 years but even more significantly, earned them a trip to the prestigious Club World Cup in December.
The tournament also included Caribbean sides W Connection and Caledonia AIA of Trinidad and Tobago, and Valencia FC of Haiti, but all three teams crashed out in the Group Stage.
Following the goalless draw in the first leg earlier this month, both Cruz Azul and Toluca entered the contest desperately needing a goal but with Cruz Azul knowing that a precious away goal would prove vital in any stalemate.
Both teams started positively but it was Toluca who had the first shot on goal in the sixth minute when Wilson Tiago lost his marker, got in behind the Cruz Azul defence and fired off a low, firm shot, which goalkeeper Jesus Corona did well to keep out to his left.
Cruz Azul responded almost immediately, however, when Marco Fabian was set free down the left two minutes later but mis-hit his shot from just outside the penalty area. Joao Rojas then caused a few anxious moments in Toluca’s defence when he raced down the right side in the 13th minute to square across goal, only to find no one there to meet his cross. Cruz Azul kept up the pressure through Rojas who cut inside in the 18th minute, and squeezed off a shot which custodian Alfredo Talavera saved easily.
Toluca also got forward with pace, with Miguel Ponce getting on the end of a flowing counter-attack, to rip a left-footed volley just wide of the far post in the 32nd minute.
The first goal of the game arrived nine minutes later but came at the opposite end in a superb build-up. Rojas was involved again, lifting a lovely weighted pass from the right side to pick out Fabian on the left, who sent a delicate left-footed clip to the far post where Pavone arrived to powerfully boot home from close range.
Trailing 0-1 at the break, Toluca now needed to score twice in order to win the game and they wasted precious little time in making amends. They showed their intent from the opening minutes in running at the Cruz Azul defence, and Pablo Velazquez almost levelled in the 52nd minute when his header was blocked from near point blank range.
The warning signs were there when Velazquez squandered a couple of gilt-edged chances but Benitez then produced the equaliser with a fantastic strike, ten minutes after coming off the bench.
A throw-in from Ponce resulted in a scramble inside the 18-yard box, allowing Benitez to slip away from his marker down the left. He checked his run to remain onside before collecting a short pass and driving a thunderous volley past Corona from a tight angle.
Velazquez then nearly provided the winner in the 72nd minute when he got onto the end of Oscar Rojas’s free kick from the left, but watched as Corona pulled off a brilliant reflex save at the near post, to parry the close range effort.
Toluca continued to dominate possession in search of the critical second goal which never came, as Cruz Azul defended stoutly.