TORREON, Mexico -- Djaniny Tavares and Julio Furch were the saviors for Santos Laguna on Thursday, as Los Guerreros came from behind to defeat Toluca 2-1 in the first leg of the Liga MX final.
1. Santos Laguna show heart in comeback victory
Toluca flexed its muscles early on inside Estadio Corona. At times in the first half, the side looked like it was ready to overpower Santos Laguna, in line with a Clausura in which Los Diablos Rojos have been Mexico's best team.
There were early chances and a calmness as Rubens Sambueza worked his magic and Leonel Lopez and Antonio Rios exerted control over central midfield. At the other end, Santos struggled to create and looked genuinely nervous.
Toluca went in front through Luis Quinones in the 53rd minute, but that's when Santos seemed to kick into gear. The team from Torreon might not be the best in the league right now, but after overcoming Tigres and Club America in the liguilla, no one can accuse Robert Siboldi's side of not having the stomach for battle.
The reaction to going behind might have been partially aided by Toluca trying to hold onto the only goal, but Santos piled forward, threw caution to the wind and played a little bit more direct, to good effect.
Djaniny netted his 16th goal of the season to equalize in the 71st minute, and Santos Laguna continued to push. Their reward came when Furch managed to steer in a left-wing cross in the 89th.
It's going to be a tough ask for Santos in Estadio Nemesio Diez -- one of the toughest places to visit in Liga MX -- on Sunday, but this game provided more evidence that if Toluca is crowned Liga MX champion, Los Guerreros won't be going down without a fight.
2. Toluca lament missed opportunities
Toluca had eight shots from inside the penalty area in the first half and didn't score on any of them. And it wasn't a case of Santos keeper Jonathan Orozco making particularly remarkable saves. Toluca simply failed to convert.
Toluca hit the woodwork twice in the first six minutes, first from Quinones and then from Sambueza, with both coming off of mistakes from Santos. The forwards will have been bitterly disappointed not to take the chances. Quinones had another opportunity right before half-time, but he couldn't direct a free header on goal.
After the break, Quinones' moment came, when he burst through and finished with ease past Orozco, who had left his near post wide open.
At that point, it's not an exaggeration to suggest Toluca could've been 3-0 up. Los Diablos Rojos weren't dominating, but they were controlling the game.
Credit must go to Santos Laguna for their reaction to going behind and for applying pressure, but Toluca can't afford to misfire at home Sunday.
3. Mixed night for Talavera
Alfredo Talavera surely felt good walking out into Estadio Corona on Thursday evening. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was out for nine months until this past February, and Toluca's run to the Liga MX final had seemed to reassert his credentials for the Mexican national team, in case anyone had forgotten.
In Thursday's first leg, Talavera was the only active player from Juan Carlos Osorio's preliminary 28-player El Tri squad, and the game appeared to be going well. He was a reassuring presence in goal.
Talavera's bravery in diving at Djaniny's feet in the 63rd minute to put the Cape Verde international off as he was about to strike probably stopped a goal. The Jalisco native's aerial game -- crucial against strikers like Furch and Djaniny -- was solid, and was his distribution.
But then came a moment of madness. Talavera charged outside his box to try to intercept a Brian Lozano pass over the defense. But instead of Talavera taking the ball, Djaniny was able to steer it away from the goalkeeper and was left with an open net.
It's highly unlikely that Talavera's performance over this final will be the deciding factor in whom Osorio picks for the World Cup -- in-form Guillermo Ochoa is likely to start -- but the Talavera really could've done without mistakes like the one for Djaniny's goal.