In the last 3 decades in professional sports, there arguably has never been a team as good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as Mexican Futbol Club Cruz Azul.
Perhaps one could make a case for the Atlanta Falcons of recent years, who consistently find creative and embarrassing ways to lose games. Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers, who in the 2010’s blew postseason lead after postseason lead, until finally winning the World Series in 2020, the Argentine National Team, who have contested 5 finals since 1993 including a World Cup and lost them all, 4 via penalty shootout, amongst other collapses.
But in the pantheon of choke jobs and failing to meet expectations, it is Cruz Azul who have reigned supreme.
Losing a 2 Goal lead in the last 4 minutes of a game with a man advantage in the final to your bitter rival? Check.
Winning the first leg of a semifinal 4–0, only to lose 0–4 on the 2nd leg and get bounced of the tournament? Check.
6 Liga Finals played since 1999. 6 Losses. It became so bad, so absurd, that the Mexican Academy of Language put forth to formalise the term “Cruzazulear”, a neologism used to define the act of losing a game with practical victory assured. In Stephen A. Smith’s words, “An accident waiting to happen.”
Which is why Sunday’s title deciding match against Santos Laguna was widely viewed by hundreds of thousands of soccer fans, all tuning in to witness either another epic choke job or a finality to the torment.
Cruz Azul came in to the game boasting the joint-highest scoring offense and best defence in the Liga MX, and having won 1–0 at Santos Laguna in a dominant 1st leg. They were the prohibitive favorites.
They did not act like it.
Santos Laguna completely dominated possession and control in the first half, sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of the Cruz Azul faithful. Sharper to the ball and extremely focused, Santos pinned Cruz Azul back. Then, in the 37th minute, Chilean national Diego Valdés dribbled around 3 Cruz Azul players and drilled a stunning left footed rocket past goalkeeper José de Jesús Corona.
He stood no chance.
It was happening again. You could feel the tension mounting in the legendary Estadio Azteca. Fans that have waited lifetimes, parents and relatives who have waited decades to witness a title, all once again shared a feeling of dread in unison.
Perhaps the players felt it too. How could they not? José de Jesús Corona, Cruz Azul’s goalkeeper and captain, had played in 3 Liga finals with Cruz Azul, 4 in total, and lost them all.
9 of the starting 11 players for Cruz Azul had been in the line-up in the infamous 0–4 drubbing to Pumas in the 2018 Semifinals.
As expected, It wasn’t going to be easy.
But this time, Cruz Azul were lead by head coach and former player Juan Reynoso, a member of the last Liga winning Cruz Azul side in 1997. Whatever he told his players during the halftime intermission worked.
Cruz Azul looked like a completely changed squad in the second half. Confident, with a bit more possession, they continuously looked threatening. The Argentine Santiago Giménez, whose father Christian Giménez had played for Cruz Azul in that epic collapse vs America in 2013, came ever so close to equalizing seconds into the half, beating the defender to the ball and the keeper, only to run out of real estate to shoot at the goal in time.
So close, yet still down 0–1, they needed just one goal to avoid extra time and possible agony.
They wouldn’t have to wait long anymore.
3 minutes later, substitute Yoshimar Yotún latched on to a clearing header, struck a perfectly lobbed pass to Jonathan Rodríguez who calmly slotted the ball past Santos goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo, tying the game but more importantly giving Cruz Azul the aggregate lead 2–1 and one step closer to that elusive title.
This time, they would not relinquish.
For the rest of the match, the Cruz Azul defence and midfield shut any hopes for Santos, thoroughly dominating them and preventing any resemblance of chances sans a few last gasp attempts. The most eventful action came 5 minutes into injury time, when Santiago Giménez fouled Matheus Doria, who took exception and an all out brawl ensued.
Then the 100th minute on the clock hit, and the final whistle blew.
Cruz Azul, after 24 years of agony, were finally champions once again for the 9th time in their illustrious history. Tears of joy and relief filled the Estadio Azteca. Fans paraded in Mexico city. Soccer teams from all over the globe congratulated Cruz Azul, understanding the seismic proportions of the moment and what it meant to a whole city and fanbase.
For one night, almost everyone became a Cruz Azul fan. The curse was lifted.