CONCACAF Champions League: Final – Cruz Azul vs Toluca – 1st Leg Roundup
Cruz Azul and Toluca grappled each other to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League final. Austin Fido looks back at the game and ahead to the second leg…
A rainy night in Mexico City brought out the best in two goalkeepers: Guillermo Allison (for Cruz Azul) and Alfredo Talavera (for Toluca). The 0-0 scoreline is more reflective of their work than any lack of effort or ability on the part of the outfield players.
This first leg was not a classic, by any means, but it was not without incident. Both teams needed most of the first half to find the measure of the soggy pitch, but when Allison struggled to control an early shot from Isaac Brizuela, it provided a clue to how the deadlock might be broken: fire in shots from all angles and see how the ‘keepers coped with a skidding, wet ball coming at them through a thicket of legs and raindrops.
It was a shot from distance that Talavera coughed up in the 36th minute, allowing Marco Fabian to tap in the rebound. But Fabian was offside, and it was the only occasion the ball would find the net in the match.
Scarcely a minute later, Fabian found space on the edge of the area and thrashed a shot at the top corner. The ball curved away from goal, just missing its target.
Fabian was the most likely goalscorer all night. He missed two good chances in the second half (including one unfortunate waft at the ball in the air with an open net beckoning), and seemed to be responsible for the majority of the four yellow cards Toluca incurred on the night.
If Miguel Herrera is using this CCL final to evaluate the relative merits of Fabian and Brizuela, the advantage is with Fabian heading into the second leg.
But he didn’t score. Talavera, who has World Cup ambitions of his own, got behind everything thrown at him. He ably parried a 76th minute shot from Joao Rojas. Most crucially, and impressively, he pulled off a double-save in stoppage time: blocking shots from Fabian and Chaco Gimenez, and still standing ready for a third shot, which never came. Cruz Azul ran out of men in the box before Talavera lost control of his balance or reflexes.
At the other end of the pitch, Allison – the stand-in for Jose de Jesus Corona, La Maquina‘s first-choice ‘keeper (suspended for BOTH legs of this final, per a late-breaking CONCACAF disciplinary decision) – was also impressive.
Like Talavera, he struggled with the wet ball, but in such conditions, a ‘keeper must trust his technique to help him out. Positioning bailed Allison out of a tricky situation in the 63rd minute: Brizuela connected with Pablo Velazquez, and the big man’s header was powerful, on target – and straight at the ‘keeper. It was a collision of ball and man rather than a save, but that is the fundamental purpose of a goalkeeper – to get in the way.
Antonio Rios pinged a shot off Allison’s right-hand post in the 87th minute, but it looked as though the ‘keeper had it covered, just.
So this final will be decided in Toluca. Last year’s final was also 0-0 after the first leg, and the second leg was a stand-out classic. If we get something half as good this time around, it will be worth watching.
Los Diablos Rojos are, of course, happier with a clean sheet at the halfway point than their opponents. It’s not just the fact they haven’t lost at home since September; they haven’t failed to score in Toluca since October.
They have won six straight against Liga MX opposition in Estadio Nemesio Diez. And they beat Cruz Azul over two legs in the 2013 Apertura playoffs.
Still, Cruz Azul will not lack for confidence. If Toluca’s recent history is good, La Maquina‘s is better. The top team in the current Liga MX standings is also the last team to beat Los Diablos Rojos in Toluca. This is a useful statistic when you need to be the next team to beat Toluca at home as well.
Furthermore, November’s 3-0 loss in Toluca was something of aberration for Cruz Azul. Prior to getting bounced out of the last playoffs by Los Diablos Rojos, La Maquina had not lost a match to Toluca since 2009. That was a run of eight straight games, including winning four out of five played at Estadio Nemesio Diez.
In other words, Cruz Azul knows how to go to Toluca and win.
The history troubling La Maquina as it prepares for the second leg is not any particular memory of playing Toluca, it is the team’s history in CCL.
Cruz Azul is the most successful club in the history of CONCACAF’s club championship: this is its eighth final (no other team has been to more than five), and it has won five titles (tied with America for most regional tournament wins).
But since CONCACAF started calling this competition the Champions League, fortune has turned against La Maquina. The club had never lost a regional final until the 2008-09 edition, the first of the ‘Champions League era’, as we are now expected to call it. It lost the very next final also. And stalled in the semifinals in 2010-11.
Toluca may have also lost its last regional final (2006) but it has won this tournament more recently (2003) than Cruz Azul (1997).
History and home advantage make Los Diablos Rojos favorites heading into the second leg.
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OTF’s Concacaf and USMNT editor Austin Fido is on Twitter @canetop.