Pachuca came into this game looking to protect a 2-0 aggregate lead and reach the final in their return to the Liguilla after a three-season postseason drought. Santos Laguna came back from two goals down in the quarterfinals, and looked to mount a similar comeback tonight, but this time the away goals were not in their favor. Santos won, 4-2, but the 4-4 aggregate score favored the Tuzos due to their two away goals. Pachuca will play the winner of Toluca/León in the Gran Final.
Santos came out with a high-pressure, fast attack, and they put the visitors on the back foot early on. Pachuca’s defense was having a hard time keeping up with the speedy Carlos Darwin Quintero, and the ball stayed persistently in Pachuca’s defensive third. Santos won a series of free kicks and corner kicks, and in the 11th minute one of those set pieces paid off.
Juan Pablo Rodríguez sent in a corner kick, and Óscar Pérez came off his line to punch it away. “El Conejo” never reached the ball, however, and Rafael Figueroa was there to head it into the empty net, making the score 1-0 in the night and 1-2 on aggregate.
Santos poured even more pressure on after that, knowing that one more goal would be enough to send them through, but everything changed in the 20th minute. Oswaldo Sánchez and Enner Valencia both went in studs-up while contesting a ball in the box; Valencia turned aside, but Sánchez raked his cleats along Valencia’s shoulder. The striker went down holding first his head, then his shoulder, milking the contact. Referee Marco Antonio Rodríguez reached into his pocket and gave Sánchez a straight red.
The play was dead before the contact, so no penalty kick was given, but the red card seemed to be punishment enough. Sánchez wasn’t the only one sent off in the first half; Santos’s hot-tempered coach, Pedro Caixinha, was also given his marching orders for a separate incident a few minutes later.
Sánchez was replaced by 23-year-old Julio González, who has hardly played in the first division, and his inexperience quickly became glaringly obvious. In the 27th minute, González received a backpass and, with Enner Valencia pressuring him, he tried to dribble out of trouble instead of simply clearing the ball. Valencia won the ball away and took it into the empty net to make it 1-1 on the night and 1-3 on aggregate, giving Pachuca the first of their crucial away goals.
In the third of five minutes of first-half stoppage time, Dieter Villapando gave Pachuca the 1-2 lead (1-4 aggregate) with a powerful header from just inside the box.
At that point, Pachuca looked to be comfortably on their way to the final, but the game turned on its head once again in the second half. Walter Ayoví received a straight red of his own in the 63rd minute, making it 10 vs 10, and Santos found themselves back on the front foot. The Laguneros hit the woodwork twice in as many minutes before Juan Pablo Rodríguez leveled the score from the penalty spot in the 67th minute.
Santos struck from a set piece yet again ten minutes later, when Javier Orozco finished off Carlos Darwin Quintero’s corner kick in the 77th minute. Pérez got a hand to the ball, but was unable to keep it out of his net, giving Santos the lead on the night, although they still trailed on aggregate.
Rafael Figueroa ensured a nail-biting finale when he completed his brace in the 93rd minute, making it 4-2 Santos on the night and 4-4 on aggregate. Due to Pachuca’s away goals, the tied aggregate wasn’t enough for Santos, but it brought them back to within a goal of advancing. With the crowd roaring encouragement, Santos threw everything forward, but in the end there wasn’t enough time to complete what would have been a stunning comeback.
Pachuca will face either León or Toluca in the Gran Final, which is preliminarily scheduled for May 15th and 18th. The official dates and times will be announced on Monday.
Santos: Oswaldo Sánchez, Jonathan Lacerda (Javier Orozco 46′), Rafael Figueroa, Oswaldo Alanís, José Javier Abella, Ribair Rodríguez (Andrés Renteria 62′), Juan Pablo Rodríguez, Jesús Escoboza, Néstor Calderón (Julio González 23′), Oribe Peralta, Carlos Darwin Quintero.
Pachuca: Óscar Pérez, Rodolfo Pizarro, Miguel Herrera, Hugo Rodríguez, Daniel Arreola, Jorge Hernández, Walter Ayoví, Hirving Lozano (Diego de Buen 59′), John Fredy Pajoy (Jürgen Damm 46′), Dieter Villalpando (Efraín Cortés 67′), Enner Valencia.