Pablo Zeballos of Cruz Azul (right) scored his fifth goal in the Champions League
Photo by Imágenes de Costa Rica
10/20/2009 - SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Ramon Nunez and Pablo Zeballos scored second-half goals to rally Cruz Azul to a 2-1 victory over Saprissa on Tuesday, sending it to the quarterfinals as at least one of possibly two unbeaten teams.
Cruz Azul already had clinched its place in the knockout round and heads to the final eight with a 5-1-0 record, atop Group C with 16 points. Fellow Mexican club Pumas has a chance also to finish the Group Stage unbeaten, needing a win or draw Thursday in its last match against Comunicaciones.
Saprissa entered the day with a chance to advance, but was eliminated before kickoff when the Columbus Crew scored a second-half goal and drew 1-1 at the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Columbus finished with eight points, eight behind Cruz Azul and three ahead of Saprissa in third place. Even if Saprissa had won, it had lost at home to Columbus and drew its away leg, surrendering the tiebreaker advantage.
It was the second straight year Saprissa failed to advance past the Group Stage. Last season, Saprissa won only one of its last three matches to be edged out by Cruz Azul for a berth.
Anticipating a chance at the quarterfinals, a boisterous crowd at Estadio Saprissa greeted both teams, which struggled to created chances in the first half.
Saprissa took the lead four minutes before halftime when Armando Alonso created enough space along the right to launch a cross between two defenders and feed Kendall Watson, who stuck a side-footed volley at the corner of the six-yard box to beat Cruz Azul keeper Yosgart Gutierrez.
Gutierrez had to punch away another chance four minutes into the second half, keeping Cruz Azul within a goal and giving Nunez his opportunity to equalize.
Hector Gutierrez stipped the ball just outside the area and quickly fed Zeballos in the middle of the box. With his back to goal, Zeballos was able to hold off defender Alexander Robinson before dropping a ball into the path of Nunez, who ran on to the roller and volleyed a right-footed blast from the top of the 18 for his second goal of the tournament.
Zeballos then added the winner in the 82nd, running unmarked at the back post onto a low, rolling cross from Nunez and easily finishing for his fifth goal in the Champions League. Zeballos finished with four goals in last year’s championship.
Cruz Azul, which advanced all the way to last season’s finals before falling to fellow Mexican side Atlante, will learn its quarterfinal opponent on November 17, when CONCACAF conducts its Championship Round draw at its New York headquarters.