Cruz Azul and Toluca settled little in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final last week. The two teams slogged through the rain in Mexico City without producing any tangible advantage. The tenuous balance heading into the decisive return leg left both sides with ample work ahead to secure their first Champions League triumph and a place at the Club World Cup.
Most of the buildup to the second leg tonight (8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) hinged on the way both teams needed to approach their tasks. Caution proved the overriding concern in the first leg, but it may not persist through the duration of this affair if the home side meets its expected standards.
Toluca manager José Cardozo wants his side to eschew the hesitant course and grab the game by the scruff of the neck against a Cruz Azul side often found wanting in these sorts of situations.
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“We both need to have the mindset for this match,” Cardozo told reporters earlier this week. “Cruz Azul has had the disadvantage of losing important finals before, but that’s not our problem. Our objective is to focus on what concerns use from the first minute on Wednesday. We have to go for the win, not play for it. We know we will play a difficult opponent, but it won’t take away our dreams. We respect our rivals, but we trust in our abilities to find the game from the first minute and hunt for victory.”
The burden – fairly or not – falls on Cruz Azul to produce in this situation and supply a riposte to the humbling defeats of the past. Cardozo’s comments highlighted and inflamed the inherent pressure foisted on La Máquina in these circumstances. One of the largest clubs in Mexico often stumbles at the very point when its fans expect victory.
Overcoming defeat after defeat with a championship in sight presents yet another challenging component to this already fraught task. It is hard enough to repel Toluca’s potent attack at Estadio Nemesio Diez without attempting to vanquish years and years of disappointment at the same time. Yet this is the assignment ahead for Luis Fernando Tena and his players.
“We feel it is our responsibility to give the club a title and leave our names in the history of this club,” Cruz Azul midfielder Mauro Formica told mediotiempo.com on Tuesday. “We will do everything possible to win this game and remove all of those ghosts from the past.”
Tena received an unexpected boost to the efforts on Monday when the CONCACAF Appeals Committee paved the way for Jesús Corona to feature in the second leg. Corona originally received a three-match ban for his role in the post-match scuffle after the semifinal second leg victory over Club Tijuana, but the committee reduced the sentence to one game after reviewing the available evidence.
Corona’s return to the starting XI provides Cruz Azul with a potential matchwinner on a night when Toluca will likely place the visitors under considerable pressure. The potential absence of Luis Perea (adductor) complicates matters a bit for the inevitable defensive efforts, but the shutout pitched in the first leg at Estadio Azul a week ago offers some encouragement for the return leg.
By limiting Toluca in the first leg, Cruz Azul also opened the possibility of claiming the title with a scoring draw or a victory at La Bombonera. La Máquina – as evidenced by its considerable output during the Clausura – possesses the necessary tools to nick a goal or two on the counter in this affair to tip the tie in its favor. It is a possibility Toluca striker Pablo Velázquez said his Red Devils must acknowledge heading into the affair.
“We know there is the issue of away goals, but the coach wants us to go for goals from the first minute,” Velázquez told reporters this week. “Because it is a final, we have to figure out how to create the first goal and then manage the game.”
All of the best laid plans about navigating through the thicket in a certain fashion tend to disintegrate as these finals unfold. The outcome rests with the players on the field and their ability to train their focus on the objective instead of the trappings at hand. Only then can one side achieve its destiny, claim the trophy and secure a trip to Morocco later this year.
“We are determined to win,” Cruz Azul defender Gerardo Flores told reporters. “We want to go to Toluca to win the CONCACAF Champions League. In our minds, nothing else happens. We are thinking of victory. The power to crown a good campaign is our hands.”