EDGAR ZUNIGA - Monday, November 26, 2012
Capped by an injury-time goal, Club Tijuana accomplished an unbelievable comeback to fight their way into the Liga MX final.
The Three Amigos-Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Greg Garza-are on the verge of being part of one of the most extraordinary championship runs in the history of Mexican soccer.
Looking moribund after the 2-0 loss to León in the first leg of their semifinals matchup, the Xoloitzcuintles came out with fierce determination from the first whistle and battled with remarkable tenacity to win 3-0 in dramatic fashion and advance to their first ever Liga MX final, where they will face their biggest rival of the season, Toluca.
Although Garza didn't get any playing time, both Castillo and Corona were in the starting lineup. While neither player contributed on the scoreboard, the 3-0 victory was a complete team effort.
Perhaps it was the unrelenting Club Tijuana attack, but it certainly did not help León at all that they decided to play counterattack and not press their 2-0 advantage. This allowed the Xolos the freedom to generate numerous scoring opportunities, some of which came very close to giving Club Tijuana an early lead.
Forward Duvier Riascos almost scored in the seventh minute, but his shot went wide. In the 31st minute, Fernando Arce fired a shot right in front of the net, but León goalkeeper Christian Martínez made an improbable stop with his right shoulder.
At the time, Club Tijuana had three forwards on the attack, but then coach Antonio Mohamed sent another player forward, and the pressure finally got to León. In the 43rd minute, Alfredo Moreno bounced a pass into the top of the box, which Riascos back-heeled to Fidel Martínez, who fired and scored to the far post, giving the Xolos a much-needed shot of adrenaline going into halftime.
In the second half, Club Tijuana really poured it on, keeping León corralled in their half of the field, as the Xolos continued their hunt for more goals.
Not being able to find his scoring touch yet again, Corona was subbed out in the 61st minute for Raul Enríquez, who would prove to be a super sub.
In the 68th minute, on a play that was started by Riascos, he passed to Enríquez and kept on sprinting past the León defense as Enríquez worked the give-and-go, filtering a pass into the path of the streaking Riascos, who fired a right-footed shot past Christian Martínez, leaving León shell-shocked.
In injury time, on their heels and stumbling back, León tried desperately to salvage a positive result but they lacked any imagination or momentum and ultimately crumbled under the pressure.
With León completely committed into the attack, Enríquez fired a pass from the center circle into no man's land, where the ball was chased down by Richard Ruiz, who darted past all the León defenders, took control of the ball and executed a perfectly timed shot past Christian Martínez deep into the net, igniting a frenzied mosh pit celebration in the stands of Estadio Caliente.
The Xolos then held on for the last four minutes of injury time to secure their pass into the final, with the first leg scheduled at Estadio Caliente on Thursday.