An exciting match in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg could only be decided by penalties as the Puerto Rico Islanders were sent packing by Cruz Azul.
Cruz Azul started the match on the front foot, bossing possession and creating a few half chances in the early going of the match. The best of those chances fell to Pablo Zeballos after Puerto Rico ‘keeper Bill Gaudette hit a very poor punt. The striker seemed to be in on goal, but curiously decided to try and slide the ball across the face of goal rather than taking on the shot.
Colin Clarke’s decision to start with a 5-4-1 formation seemed to be working against the Islanders. The lack of possession and attacking options for the visitors allowed Cruz Azul far too much time on the ball. As a result the Islanders faced constant pressure in first 20 minutes, but the five man back line held up well and kept Gaudette from any real trouble.
The home side came very close to opening the scoring in the 30th when a poor tackle from defender Cristian Arrieta set up a dangerous set piece. The ball in from Jaime Lozano found Joaquin Beltran unmarked in the box. The defender’s header looked goal bound, but came back off the post.
More drama ensued as Guadette took his time picking up the lose ball and was challenged by Cristian Riveros who slid in towards the ball. The tackle looked fairly innocent and Gaudette was only glanced by the midfielder’s arm as he jumped away, but the referee’s decision was a straight red leaving the home side to play with ten men for the remaining hour of the match.
Down a man but still well in control of the match the Cementeros finally found a breakthrough in the 44th when a nice heel-flick from Luis Landin found Zeballos at the top of the box. The striker did well to earn an inch of space after settling the ball and blasted a shot into the top corner of Gaudette’s net.
The match went to the break with Cruz Azul holding a one goal lead, but down a man and still in need of another goal to have any shot at reaching the finals.
The second half began much as the first ended. Cruz Azul came out pressing for a second goal and nearly got it just seven minutes in when second half substitute Edgar Andrade sent a ball into the box on nearly his first touch of the game. The ball was helped across the frame of goal by Landin, but Zeballos couldn’t get the final touch that was needed.
Another silly foul from Arrieta set Lozano up for a great chance from a set piece. The lefty struck his shot well and only a stretching punch from Gaudette kept the ball out of the net.
The Islanders got their first chance on goal in the 63rd when Kendell Jagdeosingh found James Marcelin running down the left channel. The midfielder collected the ball and found space for a shot, but Cruz Azul ‘keeper Alfonso Blanco got down well to smother the ball.
Gerardo Torrado had a chance to give the home side a 2-0 lead in the 72nd when a set play fell kindly for him at the back post, but the Cruz Azul captain could only push his flicked shot wide of the post.
The breakthrough looked certain in the 77th when Nigel Henry had to go full stretch in front of and attacking player after a terrible bit of defending from John Krause left the ball drifting toward an open goal. But Henry won the race and saved what should have been a second for Cruz Azul.
The second goal finally came in the 83rd when a cross from the flank found second half sub Javier Orozco who pounded it home from just inside the box with his first touch to level the aggregate score.
Domenic Mediate had a chance to open the scoring for Puerto Rico in stoppage time when a ball fell to his feet just a few yards out from goal, but the newly acquired player could not put his shot on target and the match would head into extra time.
The overtime period began on a bright note for Puerto Rico who got a cracker of a goal from Sandy Gbandi. The midfielder collected a ball in just the second minute of the extra frame and ripped a shot into the upper corner of Blanco’s goal from 30 yards out.
Cruz Azul found an answer seven minutes later when Gerardo Lugo swept in a cross from the right that found Cesar Villaluz in behind Arrieta at the back post. Villaluz did well to collect the ball with his chest and then touch a headed effort over Guadette and into the net.
As the second half of overtime kicked off it looked like Orozco had his team back in front when he turned past Krause and had a nice look at goal. His shot beat Gaudette, but slid just wide of the post.
The home side continued to pressure and search for a winner and in the dying minutes Torrado found a telling ball to Villaluz over the top, but Gaudette was in perfect position to stop the close range volley. Despite the determined effort, the winner would not come and the match would head into penalties with Cruz Azul up 3-1 after 120 minutes.
The Islanders missed two of their first four from the spot and in the fifth round of shooters Orozco stepped to the spot with a chance to send his side the finals. The second half sub who had already claimed one goal on the night pounded home his penalty and gave Cruz Azul a 4-2 win in the shootout, eliminating the Islanders and assuring an all-Mexican final.
Allen Ramsey, Goal.com
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