Liga MX Liguilla: Final four takes shape

Posted by Andrea Canales

"Win or go home" doesn't really apply when the elimination process takes place over two games. One game can be lost, yet the losing team still advance if the other match favors them by a sufficient number of goals. They can also triumph if the rules and regulations are on their side.

In the Liga MX Liguilla, Cruz Azul stomped out a clear advantage with a 4-2 victory over Morelia in the first leg. Yet the Monarchs were not defeated even with the loss, because they had managed to notch two goals on their opponents at home. Thus, when the teams met for the decisive second leg on Sunday, the Morelia players had a clear objective - a 2-0 win would send them through.

Their home fans knew what was needed as well and their roared their approval at every threatening run or or shot from Morelia. Oddly enough, however, it was Cruz Azul who provided some of the most important encouragement to the Monarch cause. First of all, the Cruz Azul strikers kept missing, hesitating or otherwise choking in front of goal.

Then in the 35th minute, the most prolific Cruz Azul player this season, Mariano Pavone, missed on a good chance in front of the net and, as if in penance, immediately went to the ground. It wasn't due to the shame of the shot, however, but to a muscle injury. Pavone had probably pulled something attempting the shot.

With one of Cruz Azul's best scoring players sidelined, Morelia stepped up the attack even more.

Finally, as the first half drew to a close, Rodrigo Salinas broke through the defensive formation of Cruz Azul to notch the opening goal via a stunning strike into the side netting. Jesus Corona, the Cruz Azul goalkeeper had turned away every other attempt, but now, Morelia’s goal was withing reach.

It spoke to the dire straits of Cruz Azul that a creative playmaker like Christian 'Chaco' Gimenez had to pitch in on some of the dirty defensive work required to hold off the Morelia charge. It wasn’t always pretty, and some more daring saves by Corona were required, but the Blue Machine managed to stave off a second goal and assure advancement to the semifinals.

Now, Cruz Azul will face Santos Laguna, who defeated Atlas 3-1.

After a scoreless opening game stuck in neutral, the goals came quickly in the second leg. Atlas got things going with the opening strike, from Omar Bravo off a corner in the 6th minute of play. That scoreline would advance Atlas, but the team’s joy did not last. Ten minutes later, Andres Renteria equalized for Santos. As the away team, the goal counted double, so the pressure was on Atlas to score.

Instead, they cracked. Goalkeeper Miguel Pinto handled the ball outside of the box and was carded out of the game. The expulsion left one less player on the field for Atlas. That was too big an advantage to give a striker like Carlos Darwin Quintero, who scored two to assure the final outcome.

Now the final four are set - America will face Monterrey, and Cruz Azul take on Santos Laguna. Of all the clubs, America had probably the smoothest, most confident trip to the semis, but part of the allure of elimination games is that anything can happen.

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