Liga MX final sees Santos Laguna don giant-killer costume once more against Toluca
TORREON, Mexico -- The crowd failed to notice for more than a moment.
Awash in ecstasy over Julio Furch's late winner, most fans were oblivious to the fact the lights had gone out in the north tower of the Estadio Corona.
It was the kind of interruption most Santos supporters would have welcomed at an earlier stage of the game -- most likely, when the home team was trailing, fruitlessly searching for an equalizer in the first leg of the Liga MX final and facing the dark prospect of visiting Toluca on Sunday carrying a deficit with them.
However, after Furch bested Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera with a spectacular sliding finish to make it 2-1, the mood was significantly lighter. The home crowd beneath the north tower began using their cell phones to sub for the downed stadium lighting, urging the referee to keep the party going.
It was just the kind of reaction you'd expect from a team few expected to be in this position in the first place. Throughout the postseason campaign, Santos Laguna has stoutly been David to a trio of Goliaths.
In the quarterfinals, they roared back from a 2-0 deficit to take down Tigres, winners of four league titles since 2011 and possessors of one of the strongest squads this side of the Atlantic. A week later, they destroyed Club America, Mexico's most successful team, with six goals over two legs. Now, they go to Toluca (winners of 10 Liga MX titles themselves) with an advantage after coming back from a deficit at home.
In all, if Santos lifts the trophy next weekend, it will have eliminated three teams with 28 Liga MX league titles between them -- as well as knocking off two of the three teams with the most championships in the country's history.
The run seems so improbable, even the club's manager seems surprised. "Luck sometimes plays a part," Robert Siboldi said in his post-match news conference. "We've had it happen [against] us too."
Though Siboldi might have been referring to the odd bounce of the ball that went his team's way, there's no denying the character and the mental fortitude his team has shown time and time again. On Thursday night, they faced a hungry opponent that twice caught them off guard at the start of either half.
When Luis Quinones scored the game's first goal, it seemed for a minute that David had met his match. After all, star striker Djaniny had looked off for most of the game, saving his energy as the result of a nagging injury that has limited his mobility for most of the playoffs. The supporting cast of players who had long provided Siboldi and Santos with offensive bursts with Tavares on the mend was quiet. So was the usually raucous crowd.
The perfect cue for another unlikely comeback.
Off an inch-perfect lob from Brian Lozano, Djaniny mustered his remaining strength and speed to whiz past Santiago Garcia and goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, finishing a punishing counterattack into an empty net.
"Santos found a long ball, a great play from Djaniny combined with a mistake of our own, and that fed their momentum," Toluca manager Hernan Cristante said after the loss. "They did their part."
Djaniny's heroics fed activity on and off the pitch, reviving the crowd and spurring his team to victory. Even when Siboldi decided to take him off to protect his fitness with under 10 minutes left, the excitement was far from tempered, and in fact reaching its crescendo.
With one minute in regulation remaining, Furch dove into a lobbed cross from the right side and speared a shot past Talavera for the deciding goal, the stress apparently so much that even the stadium couldn't take it.
"They had two chances, they scored them," Talavera said after the game. "In the last few minutes of a game, it just goes to show you have to be completely concentrated, anything can happen."
Eventually, there were seven minutes added to the proceedings by referee Fernando Guerrero following the lighting failure. It was plenty of time for the drama to keep unfolding, though the dying moments of the game were mostly reserved for flaring tempers on the pitch between the opposing benches, and not so much for action around the goals.
By the time the match ended, the lights went out at the Estadio Corona once again -- this time to allow for fireworks. Amid the darkness, fans around the stadium joined the ones around the north tower and lit the field with their phones.
It was a moment no one would dare fail to notice.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.