Pachuca advanced to the Liga MX Liguilla final on away goals after a dramatic 4-2 defeat at Santos Laguna on Saturday night.
The visitors clung to the advantage created by the 2-0 home victory in midweek in the final moments to book a place in the final on a night when little followed to plan.
Santos opened the scoring through Rafael Figueroa inside the opening quarter of an hour, but Oswaldo Sánchez’s dismissal for a high challenge on Enner Valencia reduced the home side to 10 men before the half-hour.
Valencia and Dieter Villalpando placed Pachuca firmly on track for the final before the interval, but Walter Ayovi’s red card shortly after the hour restored numerical parity between the sides and set the scene for a staggering comeback from the home side.
Juan Pablo Rodriguez converted from the spot after Rodolfo Pizarro hauled down Oribe Peralta minutes later before Javier Orozco nodded home at the near post to place the tie in doubt once again. Figueroa snatched his second deep into second-half stoppage time, but Orozco spurned a glorious chance to complete the comeback and send Santos through at the death.
The result left Pachuca to celebrate its first appearance in the final since the 2009 Clausura and wait for the winner of the tie between Toluca and Club León. Santos, meanwhile, will protest bitterly about the early exits of Sánchez and manager Pedro Caixinha and wonder whether another minute or two might have pushed them through anyways.
All of the early signs pointed to a Santos revival, though they hardly betrayed the peculiar night ahead. The home side opened the match filled with the endeavor and the energy required to overturn the two-goal deficit from the first leg. Óscar Pérez made a save at his near post on Oswaldo Alanis’ early free kick in a futile attempt to quell the looming danger.
Figueroa provided the lifeline with his header after just 11 minutes. Darwin Quintero delivered an inviting corner kick from the left flank. Perez came off his line in a bid to claim it, but he flapped at the service and left the Santos defender to nod into the empty net.
Pérez went some way to atoning for his error moments later when he kicked away Quintero’s near-post effort. The stop proved critical given the events that unfolded down the other end of the field moments later.
The trouble started when Valencia jostled with his marker and worked his way behind the defense. A long hoof toward the penalty area floated into the penalty area and provided Valencia with a potential chance. Sánchez rushed off his line to thwart the danger. Both players lunged for the ball with extended boots exposed, but Sánchez caught Valencia across his shoulder blades with the bottom of his cleat. Referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez subsequently brandished his familiar red card to reduce the home side to 10 men and subdue the early surge.
Valencia compounded the misery six minutes later by embarrassing replacement goalkeeper Julio Gonzalez for the equalizer. Gonzalez received a routine pass and took his time to clear the ball away. His dithering allowed Valencia to apply pressure, claim the ball and slot it into the empty net draw the visitors level on the night.
Pachuca grabbed a second in first-half stoppage time to extend the lead to three goals on aggregate. Villalpando hurtled himself toward the ball just inside the penalty area and turned his effort inside the far post to leave Santos with four goals to score in the second half to have a chance to progress.
Santos nearly achieved the feat with yet another intervention from referee Rodriguez just after the hour mark. Juan Pablo Rodriguez hit the post moments before the crucial sequence, but the decisive action came when Ayoví and Peralta challenged for a ball on the edge of the Pachuca penalty area. Ayoví left his foot hit and raked his studs across the side of Peralta’s rib cage to prompt a second dismissal on the night and set the scene for a grandstand finish.
Juan Pablo Rodriguez pulled a goal back for Santos from the spot moments later. There were no doubts about this decision after Rodolfo Pizarro bundled over Peralta as he attempted to divert a cross toward goal. The veteran midfielder made no mistake from 12 yards to give the home side a glimmer of hope.
Orozco encouraged the prospects of an improbable revival 10 minutes from time when he headed Quintero’s corner kick inside the near post to seize the lead on the night. Figueroa grabbed his second of the evening deep into second-half stoppage time to leave Santos just one goal short of a place in the final.
Santos managed to produce one last chance in the waning stages, but Orozco stuck the potential winner straight into Perez’s waiting arms. The final whistle blew shortly thereafter to incite wild celebrations on the Pachuca bench and leave Santos to wonder what might have been if not for Sánchez’s early departure.