Frank Myrland

Edgar Benitez scored the championship-winning goal just in time.

Benitez scored in the 92nd minute of the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final at the end of last month to lift Mexican side Pachuca to victory. Pachuca beat fellow Mexicans Cruz Azul to take the title and advance to the Club World Cup.

The two-legged final showed exactly how evenly matched the two teams were. Cruz Azul won the first match in their home stadium by a score of 2-1, capitalising on a pair of defensive mistakes, including an own goal. With the score knotted at 0-0 in the second match, Pachuca were minutes away from letting the trophy slip by when Benitez scored the winner, and handed the Tuzos  the championship on away goals, with an aggregate score of 2-2.

Cruz Azul felt the same disappointment from a year earlier, when they lost the Champions League final to Atlante by a score of 2-0. Their greatest chance to take control of the championship came in the first game when they hit the post twice during injury time. Fortunately for Pachuca, it was not to be.

This is the second time that the CONCACAF Champions League has been played under its current format. The CONCACAF Executive Committee adjusted the format in 2006 from an event which had only eight teams competing; the current format has 24. Of the last five tournaments played, two Mexican clubs have met in the final in four of them. This year, all four Mexican representatives competing in the tournament advanced to the semi-finals, showing the dominance that Mexico has over the CONCACAF region. The only American team in the quarter-finals was Columbus Crew, who were only narrowly beaten by Toluca 5-4 on aggregate. Canadian club Toronto FC made a poor showing, being eliminated after failing to score a single goal in the two-legged preliminary meeting against Puerto Rico Islanders.

After Columbus Crew, the next best performing teams from outside Mexico were CD Marathon of Honduras and CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala. Both put up a fight in the quarter-finals before ultimately bowing out to the Mexicans. Marathon actually held a 2-0 lead over UNAM after the first leg, with both goals coming on penalties, before being crushed 6-1 in the second leg.

The tournament was not without its troubles. Several teams that had qualified for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League were replaced either because of financial troubles or because they did not have a suitable venue to play in. This suggests that there are both a limited number of teams that are able to play at a top level or that can remain financially stable in CONCACAF.

Competition remains quite lopsided, even though all teams involved in this tournament are the best in their respective nations. By increasing the number of teams from eight to 24, the CONCACAF Champions League gave room for sides that otherwise would not get the chance to play at the top level. However, this format also allows for very one sided-affairs, such as Pachuca’s preliminary round drubbing of Guatemalan side Jalapa by a score of 10-1 over two legs. That kind of defeat certainly is not friendly to watch for the Guatemalan supporters, but is perhaps a necessary evil if Jalapa is to improve.

With this win, Pachuca is granted a berth in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup, hosted by the United Arab Emirates. As the CONCACAF winners, they will automatically advance to the quarter-finals. Pachuca last played in the Club World Cup a mere two years ago, losing the third-place match to the Japanese club Gamba Osaka. UEFA clubs have won the prize for the last three tournaments. With either Bayern Munich or Inter Milan due to advance depending on their UEFA Champions League result, it will not be easy going for Pachuca.

All in all the CONCACAF Champions League still has a way to go, but is playing an important part in raising the level of the game throughout the confederation.


Related Articles: