Santos Laguna hold on against Queretaro to win Liga MX Clausura
QUERETARO, Mexico -- Santos Laguna lifted the Liga MX Clausura 2015 trophy on Sunday in the second leg of the final, but it was anything but the formality it was supposed to be after the 5-0 win in the first leg.
Queretaro attacked like a team possessed in the first half, storming to a 3-0 lead after 45 minutes, and though it ran out of steam in the second half -- despite the introduction of Brazilian legend Ronaldinho -- it made for a good final, which ended 3-0.
Here are three quick takes from the match:
Santos Laguna hold on to be champions
This will go down as a final to remember, not just for this memorable second game, but for that first leg in Torreon, in which Santos Laguna demolished Queretaro, with Javier "Chuletita" Orozco netting four goals.
Putting the slightly anti-climatic second leg -- in which tiredness perhaps caught up with Santos -- to one side, the fifth title has been a huge achievement for Santos and a deserved one.
Coach Pedro Caixinha became first European since Bora Milutinovic (Pumas, 1981) to win Mexico's first division, and the club had the mettle to back him earlier in the regular season when a championship was a distant dream considering how the team were playing.
Santos put out the regular-season league leaders Tigres by winning 1-0 in the quarterfinal second leg, and from there the team believed. Chivas were dispatched 3-0 on aggregate in the semifinal, and the first leg of the final will go down in Santos folklore.
The institution picked up its fifth title to level Pachuca as Mexico's seventh most successful side and that is no mean feat for a team from the unfashionable northern town of Torreon.
The fact that this is the youngest squad in the Liga MX points to a bright future at Santos Laguna, with president Alejandro Irarragorri stressing this week that Caixinha, keeper Agustin Marchesin and Jesus Molina are not going anywhere this offseason.
The party will go long into the night in Torreon and a parade will be held on Monday.
Midas' touch almost comes off, Ronaldinho still a hero
Queretaro coach Victor Manuel Vuceitch has disputed seven Liga MX finals in his career. After winning the first five, he has now lost the past two, both against Santos Laguna. That doesn't mean necessarily that the "King Midas" nickname has worn off.
Vucetich's Queretaro gave Caixinha's Santos an almighty fright in the first half to make for an unmissable final, when a damp squib seemed to be on the cards.
Vucetich had begun the game with three center-backs, with George Corral and Jonathan Bornstein as wing backs, and the change in formation seemed to rock Santos.
Mario Osuna's opener from the penalty spot got fans excited, Yasser Corona's headed second in the 21st minute increased the volume and Angel Sepulveda -- a constant problem for Santos -- sent the stadium wild with the third goal seven minutes before halftime.
To be fair, Caixinha bringing off striker Orozco for defensive midfielder Sergio Ceballos three minutes before halftime shored up the away side and it didn't concede after.
Ronaldinho came off the bench on the hour mark to rapturous applause to try to add some invention as Santos shut up shop, but he couldn't manage it. The way the fans cheered for him did, however, point to them not losing faith in a player whose time in Mexico may now be at an end and will be judged overall as having more lows than highs.
But this was Vucetich's night, even in defeat, and the sight of him turning around from the bench to the fans to point at his watch and urge them to will the team on showed how much the usually placid coach wanted it.
Vucetich is back where he belongs and if he is able to make the right signings, it may not be long before he is in another final with Gallos Blancos.
Fans play their part in memorable night
Queretaro's fans haven't had much to shout about, ever. This was the team's first ever final and even if their Gallos Blancos did go into it 5-0 down, it was they who set the tone for a memorable occasion.
"Si se puede," chants rang around the stadium even before the game had started, the 1986 World Cup venue was 90 percent full one hour ahead of kickoff.
Many had camped overnight last Monday to secure a ticket and if you didn't know the score beforehand, you wouldn't have guessed that this was a team that ESPN's SPI had with less than a 1 percent chance of coming back. They believed and inspired their team to a magnificent first-half performance.
With the new ownership Grupo Imagen in place, apparently money to spend and the president talking Saturday about bringing in more star names -- one local newspaper linked the club with Andrea Pirlo on Sunday -- the foundations are set.
Gone are the days of the club scrapping against relegation, not paying players and such. This is now a serious institution and even if Ronaldinho does end up leaving this summer -- which the club says won't necessarily happen -- you can be sure they'll be making headlines soon enough.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.