Wet and wild triumph for Cruz Azul

Posted by Andrea Canales

Christian Gimenez celebrates after giving Cruz Azul an early lead over Club AmericaGettyImagesChristian Gimenez celebrates after giving Cruz Azul an early lead over Club America

In match that was more of a battle of wills than an artful display of competitive soccer, Cruz Azul came away with a narrow advantage over Club America in the first-leg of the Liga MX final. Given the fact that Cruz Azul were at home, plus scoring goals at will in recent times, it was almost disappointing that the game resulted in only a one goal victory.

What was certainly a letdown for fans was that this highly anticipated match between two teams that had played so well to reach the final was in general, a mess. The rain was partly to blame, but there was no doubt that both sides were affected by nervous anxiety caused by the build-up to the game.

However, it was a fine goal by veteran Christian "Chaco" Gimenez that put Los Cementeros ahead in the game in the 20th minute. The Argentine timed his run into the box perfectly on a set play, shaking off his defender to score via a well-placed header.

Much had been made before the game about Club America's dependence on Christian "Chucho" Benitez, their prolific forward. Yet Gimenez is the engine that runs Cruz Azul. However, since he often facilitates instead of scores, defenders don't focus on him exclusively, which may have helped him score in this instance.

Clearly, though, Cruz Azul feared the might of Benitez because their players didn't really push forward to amplify their lead. Instead, the squad went into defensive mode, breaking up plays and looking to counter.

With Cruz Azul conceding so much of the field to their opponents, Club America controlled the ball most of the time and created multiple opportunities. It was at this point that the hero of the game became goalkeeper Jesus Corona, rather than the Gimenez. Corona made some amazing saves, including a low reflex save early in the second half that was simply astounding. That save alone got the broadcast announcers talking about how Corona should be the outright starter for the Mexican national team.

Benitez was dangerous at times, but the team defence of Cruz Azul stifled him. Raul Jimenez had more chances, but the young striker couldn't quite find the net. As a whole, Club America wasn't able to find an attacking rhythm against the defensive wall of Cruz Azul.

Despite the uneven quality of play, the match was heated and could have seen a red card when Aquivaldo Mosquera, in the midst of jawing with Gimenez, advanced and head-bumped the striker. It wasn't a true, hard hit, and Gimenez certainly exaggerated the contact, falling down dramatically. But another referee would have sent Mosquera from the field, instead of showing him just the yellow.

In general, the game was very physical with a number of hard tackles, but the players escaped serious injury. Mariano Pavone, who played a few minutes towards the end of the match, still looked to be working his way back from his previous injury and may have more of an impact in the second-leg.

Cruz Azul had the best chance for another goal late in the game, when Javier Orozco had the ball at his feet in the box. But he pulled his shot wide without even testing Moises Munoz.

With that chance gone, there is now everything to play for as such a slight lead is practically meaningless when 90 minutes of play remain to decide the championship.

After the letdown of this rather ugly match, fans may be more realistic in their expectations for the grand final. On the other hand, Club America is likely to come out firing with strong support from their fans in Azteca. Perhaps when the teams don't hold anything back, the dream final of Liga MX will be as amazing as many envisioned.

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