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 build-up to the Copa Libertadores quarterfinal first leg between Club Tijuana and Atletico Mineiro Thursday has all been about that man Ronaldinho. And it suits Xolos just fine. The club told the press on Wednesday that nobody from the squad would be available to give interviews, leaving the hordes of writers from different places in Mexico and overseas left with nothing to do but chase Ronaldinho and see if the Brazilian squad had anything to say. It played a small part in helping to turn the focus of the game from one in which the home side -- a young borderland upstart -- had a certain amount of pressure to get a result at the Estadio Caliente, to being more of a show event in which the Brazilians are the stars.
TIJUANA -- Club Tijuana assistant GM Roberto Cornejo cuts a relaxed figure two days before his team's Copa Libertadores clash against Atletico Mineiro. Dressed in jeans and a club polo shirt, Cornejo is in the Estadio Caliente checking out the club's Under-14s play a hastily arranged scrimmage against the state team from Durango, along with Xolos' chief scout. His presence seemed to emphasize the idea flowing from the club that while the game against Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro is a massive event both for Xolos and the city, Club Tijuana's master plan will continue to roll on, regardless of the result this Thursday.
TIJUANA --There's a lot going on in Tijuana this week. State elections are heating to a boiling point, the city is hosting Mexico's national Olympics and the Liga MX final between Club America and Cruz Azul would've previously been a massive draw. But there is one event that is overshadowing all others and one player that has locals swooning at his every move even before he has taken to the pitch: Brazilian Ronaldinho Gaucho. The former Barcelona and AC Milan star is in town for the Copa Libertadores clash on Thursday between Club Tijuana and Atletico Mineiro, with the Brazilian side favorite to go through, but gritty Tijuana expected to put up stern resistance.
Behind closed doors lies the truth of what really was said and done in the meetings between Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela and Mexican national team coach Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre. What is certain is that some effort was made on behalf of both parties. Vela had publicly declared his loyalty to El Tri, and De la Torre responded by making a personal visit to see the forward play in Spain. At that point, hopes were high among supporters that a reconciliation had been reached and that Vela was safely back in the fold.
It took less than ten minutes for the closing match of the Liga MX semi-final between Santos Laguna and Cruz Azul to go from an exercise in near-futility to a total farce. Before the match even kicked off, Cruz Azul boasted not only a three-goal lead, but a lead of three away goals, thus requiring Santos Laguna to score four in the second-leg without conceding. That was a lot to ask and soon, a difficult task became close to impossible when a mistake off a defensive clearance practically gifted Los Cementeros the opening goal.
"Hate me more," is the unofficial motto of Club America, which regularly polls in Mexico as the second-most popular club - behind beloved Chivas de Guadalajara - but easily wins the title of most despised. It's a club that's disliked for having none of the endearing qualities of an underdog. Club America is wealthy, talented, and successful. It's ruthless in cutting loose coaches or players who fail to deliver. The current coach, Miguel Herrera, came in in 2011 as the fourth man to take the helm that year.
Santos Laguna played well for long stretches of their opening leg of the Liga MX Liguilla semifinal versus Cruz Azul. All they have to show for it is a 3-0 loss. It's not as if Santos couldn't score. They did manage a goal - an own-goal - late in the game. A sportswriter colleague who occasionally covers soccer told me recently about his main frustration with the game. He said he understood from other sports that the best team doesn't always win - even great teams have off days, and good players can get injured, or lose heart or focus.
Ah, the Liguilla playoffs! There's a reason more and more leagues --even in England, in the case of certain tiebreak scenarios-- are transitioning to this format. It's exciting. It's simply not as thrilling to crown a league champion when there are still weeks of games left to play. There's an element of danger in a playoff system that leaves even big and wealthy teams at risk, fighting and grasping for the win until the final whistle. Plus, there's something very primal about being the last team standing after the playoff melee, bloody, but unbowed.
The Carlos Vela rumor is now in overdrive, as various sources are reporting from mostly conveniently anonymous informants that the Real Sociedad striker is on his way back to the Mexican national team. He could play both in upcoming World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup. Of course, this is what common sense surmised was in the works after El Tri coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, known as "Chepo", was present recently in Spain to both watch and meet with the estranged forward. It was pretty clear then that amends had been made and a deal had been struck.
"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.
After tying a game that they needed to win, regular-season winners Tigres are out of the Liga MX Liguilla and Monterrey march on. When Tigres scored first in the match, on a nifty Damien Alvarez pass to Danilo Veron for the header, there was both relief and hope in the stadium that the bad run versus their derby rivals was over. But then Tigres scored again, and that hope died. The problem was that Tigres scored an own-goal. The defensive error by Israel Jimenez, a regular player for the Mexican national team as well, was doubly costly because of the away-goal rule.