There is one shared trait among all streaks: They end.
After 20 consecutive winless games against their archrival in the national soccer league, perennial bridesmaids LD Alajuelense finally beat Deportivo Saprissa 2-0 in front of their home crowd on Wednesday night in the first game of a two-part final of the Winter Tournament.
Alajuelense controlled the whole game, but the last 10 minutes of the first half particularly deflated the visitors. In a tense 35th minute, Alajuelense volleyed the ball around Saprissa´s penalty box before midfielder Pablo Herrera sent a sharp header to the upper right V for the game´s first goal.
Two minutes later, Saprissa defender Andrés Núñez received a red card, leaving his team to play down a man for the rest of the game.
Saprissa thought they´d finally got the ball in the net in the 43rd minute, only to have the goal called back by the line referee for offside.
Head Coach Jeaustin Campos then followed suit, getting himself ejected after arguing with the referees in injury time. In the second half, team (and national squad) captain Walter Ceteno sent a shot from the point-blank penalty mark over the cross bar in the 73rd minute.
Liga striker Marco Ureña got his own red card in the waning minutes of the second half, bringing both teams´ number of players on the field to 10. But any hopes Saprissa had of equalizing were dashed when Liga midfielder Cristian Oviedo got taken down inside the box. He easily scored on the resulting penalty kick, putting the home squad up for good as the final whistle blew.
José Carlos Monge, 18, of Curridabat, was one of the dozens of fans who hoisted themselves on the field´s gated fences while swinging jackets and pumping fists in cheer. The second goal, he said, was the key. “Anything can happen when you´re just one goal ahead, but with two, we were more confident,” said.
The spry home side trumped their visitors´ much-touted maturity. Saprissa looked old as they lumbered on the field, failing to mount any serious momentum. In the second half alone, Alajuelense had seven shots on goal and nine corner kicks to Saprissa´s two and one. Saprissa, on the other hand, received five offside calls while Alajulense drew none.
Liguistas glowed as they walked out of the stadium, telling each other “It´s already over,” and that they would soon be celebrating a championship for their team.
Liga players, on the other hand, weren´t getting ahead of themselves. Striker Jean Carlos Solorzano said after the match the attitude in the locker room was “calm, happy to have gotten the job done, that´s all.”
The match was the first in the two-leg final of the Winter Tournament. Tomorrow, Saprissa will host La Liga at Ricardo Saprissa Stadium in Tibás, to the capital´s north. In these pairs of matches, often considered one 180-minute game, the team with the better goal differential – more goals scored versus goals allowed – after the ida and vuelta legs will take the tournament championship. Should the teams be tied after the end of regulation – in this case, if Saprissa is leading 2-0 at the end of regulation on Saturday – the teams will play two 15-minute overtimes, and, if necessary, will go to penalty kicks after that.
Alajuelense´s last win against the Tibás squad came in May 2005.
While Saprissa´s run might be over, at least one fan wasn´t down.
“We´ve been champions for the last four years. Change is good,” said taxi driver and saprissísta Juan Rodríguez Nieto, 45. Besides, he said, “We´re hoarse from shouting ‘champion.´”