Tuesday, September 21

Cruz Azul breaks its curse and is proclaimed champion of the MX League

Uruguayan Jonathan Rodríguez, scorer of the goal, celebrates the winning goal.
Uruguayan Jonathan Rodríguez, scorer of the goal, celebrates the winning goal.Carlos Ramírez / EFE

The sure thing, whatever happened, were the guaranteed tears at the Azteca. Cruz Azul was a Mexican soccer wanderer with more than two decades as his country’s greatest runner-up. It was a club punished by the hazards of football, until this Sunday. The cement manufacturers drew 1-1 with Santos Laguna at the Azteca stadium, which, added to their victory in the first leg 0-1, has crowned them in the MX League. With an excess of drama and nerves, the Cruz Azul can leave behind being the synonym of the loser.

On the Azteca pitch, Santos Laguna’s men took center stage. Those in blue gave up command. When they had the ball they preferred to send the ball to the fifth demon as if they did not want to play with the ball. The local plays were wrong in short passes. It was a timid team. Aguirre, a talented forward from Santos, proposed more. Otero put pressure on the Blues who were terrified on the field. And everything fell apart. At minute 36, Diego Valdés, a Santos player, came out of the mud and between three defenders took a shot that ended inside the goal. The 0-1 revived all the fears of Cruz Azul. To play against the current. They did not want to add a seventh final lost in short tournaments (since 1996) or the twelfth in their entire history.

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The reaction of the blue was gradual. In a play to attack Luis Romo, who scored in the first leg final, fought a ball that was centered on him. He did not reach the auction, but on the rebound he tried in every way to shoot and, in a rogue play, he tried to score with his heel. Goalkeeper Acevedo was right in the save.

Half time was favorable for Cruz Azul. In the locker room, the cement coach Juan Reynoso shook the squad. He took his sprinters off the field on the wing: Roberto Alvarado, a stray on the field, and Orbelín Pineda, an agile midfielder. The club gained muscle. It took them five minutes to find the light. In a suffered corner kick in favor of Santos Laguna, the cement workers went at full speed in a counterattack. The ball ended up in the blue idol, Jonathan Rodríguez, who scored a goal that found an echo in the stands that found the best route to catharsis. They tried Santiago Giménez, son of the legendary Christian Giménez, with his searches to score a goal. He had a clear when he removed the rival goalkeeper, but did not find anyone.

The final stretch of the game was a delivery. Cruz Azul, playing with a knife between his teeth, had to hold out the advance of Santos. Between stress and fatigue, the cement workers were in search of defense. But not even with the advantage on the global scoreboard (2-1) were the blue fans calm. Not even with the triumph in their pocket could they find a balm. The resistance was such that, the party in the throes of added time, there was a brawl caused by the lagoons. Even with one minute added over overtime, no champions were known. With their hearts in their throats, they held on until the whistle. End. Goodbye to the runner-up nickname, goodbye to agonizing defeat, goodbye to blue cross.

The morbid hovered above the Cruz Azul. There are those who hoped to see him fall again to tease his neighbor dressed in blue, but those who have been faithful devotees to the team cling to the minimum possibilities to believe. Such is the resilience of cement fans that they are prepared for tragedy. This Sunday, the 22,000 fans in the stands and a wave of thousands in the country can finally celebrate. The club was born from the cement empire in 1927. In the seventies they dominated the country and, thus, established itself as one of the great Mexican teams.

The club has resorted to signing former players of its disowned rival, America, to try to find a change in its history. He has also toured the dubious sessions of coaching and to psychology. He has tried coaches with a certain reputation (see the case of Paco Jémez and Pedro Caixinha). He has signed international talents such as Roque Santa Cruz and Amaranto Perea. They even signed Messi’s cousin, Maximiliano Biancucchi. And none had worked. Until today. The key was in Juan Reynoso, who was part of what was the last winning generation in 1997. He returned to the club as a coach and raised the club. Twenty-three years, five months and 23 days, Cruz Azul once again remembers what it is like to shout that he is a champion.

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