… and a few more trophies for good measure
Basay would leave to return to Chile before the next season, but he was capably replaced by Luis Hernández, while Peláez and Zárate picked up the slack, too.
Necaxa entered the Liguilla as the No. 2 seed, then defeated the Tigres and América to set up a final against the upstart Toros of Celaya, a team led by Real Madrid legend Emilio Butragueño. The Rayos played a steady 180 minutes and the 1-1 final score earned Necaxa a second consecutive championship, though it was a less-than-satisfying triumph since it was won by virtue of the Rayos being the higher seed.
The following year, the Liga MX introduced the split season, crowning two champions each year. Necaxa reached the first such final, losing the Invierno 1996 title to Santos Laguna. Less than two years later, the Rayos were poised to claim their third title of the decade after a splendid Verano 1998 season. Necaxa qualified for the Liguilla as the No. 2 seed and cruised into the Final against top-seeded Toluca. The Electricistas grabbed the first leg at home 2-1 then appeared to have clinched the championship when José Luis Montes de Oca and Alex Aguinaga both scored in the first 2 minutes of the return match. The Rayos led 4-1 … but the Diablos narrowed the gap to 4-3 by halftime, then exploded for three more goals in the second half. That was a tough loss to swallow.
Just seven months later, Necaxa entered the Invierno 1998 Final against Guadalajara as the No. 4 seed, advancing by scoring three goals at home in the quarterfinals (UAG Tecos) and the semifinals (Atlas). When the Rayos failed to score at home (Estadio Azteca) in the first leg of the Finals, fans had every reason to be concerned. But coach Raúl Arias led a confident team into Estadio Jalisco and Necaxa upset the No. 3-seeded Chivas 2-0 with goals from defender Salvador Cabrera and team scoring leader Sergio Vázquez.
An unexpected third title of the 1990s was enough for the Rayos to earn a second “Team of the Decade” sobriquet. They were worthy heirs to the “Once Hermanos” and reclaimed the Campeonisimo nickname for the franchise.
The Rayos then burnished their legendary status with a memorable performance at the first-ever Club World Cup in January 2000. Necaxa tied Manchester United 1-1 in the opening Group A match and qualified for the third-place game by finishing second to Brazil’s Vasco de Gama. Their opponent for the bronze medal was none other than Real Madrid who had finished second in Group B behind Brazil’s Corinthians. Los Merengues would go on to win the UEFA Champions League trophy that season, but on Jan. 14, 2000, Necaxa would be the victors.
The Rayos tied Real Madrid 1-1 (Raúl scored in minute 15 and Agustín Delgado got the equalizer 43 minutes later) and earned the win from the penalty spot with Delgado knocking home the clincher. Only Monterrey in 2012 has matched Necaxa with a third-place medal at a Club World Cup.
That Necaxa team would reach one more league final – Summer 2002 – losing in heartbreaking fashion to América in overtime, but the team was already on a downward path. And that would lead to yet more heartache for Rayos fans.