Liga MX: Cruz Azul, Xolos on verge of Copa MX knockout rounds

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 15: Roberto Alvarado of Cruz Azul reacts during a match between Cruz Azul and Zacatepec as part of Copa MX Apertura 2018 at Azteca Stadium on August 15, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 15: Roberto Alvarado of Cruz Azul reacts during a match between Cruz Azul and Zacatepec as part of Copa MX Apertura 2018 at Azteca Stadium on August 15, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul and Tijuana moved closer to advancing out of their groups in Copa MX action Wednesday night, while the Tigres rediscovered their form in time to slip into first place in their group.

With two weeks remaining in the group stage, much drama remains. Defending league champion Santos has already been eliminated and double finalist Toluca (losers in both the league final and the Copa final last season) on the verge of being booted out.

Tijuana 3, Juárez 1

The border city rivals played evenly for the first half hour before the visitors from Chihuahua wilted under the steady pressure applied by the free-wheeling Xolos. Tijuana began finding holes in the Bravos’ defense and peppered goalie Iván Vázquez with shots.

In minute 39, defender Gustavo Canto side-footed a loose ball into the net from 3 meters after circling around his marker and beating another Juárez defender to the ball. Four minutes later, Jesús Angulo dribbled to the touch-line inside the box, chipped a cross over the goalie and Daniel López nodded home for a comfortable 2-0 lead at halftime.

Both goalies were forced to make tough saves throughout the match, though Tijuana’s Luis Ernesto Michel faced a lot fewer than did Vázquez. Michel did make a critical fingertip save when the game was scoreless. An opening goal by the visitors might have changed the direction of the match.

The Bravos’ keeper was left out to dry in minute 53 when he made a diving save to stop Angulo’s header from 5 meters out. “El Cubo” Torres was first to the rebound though his shot was going wide across the face of goal, but Angulo was there to stretch for the tap in. Not a single Juárez defender reacted to all this action inside the 6-yard box and Vázquez was furious.

The Bravos got a consolation goal in injury time when a shot by Jhonathan Aranda deflected off a defender and wrong-footed Michel who could only watch the ball bounce into the net to his right.

Tijuana is on top of Group 2 with 7 points, Juárez trails with 4 and Toluca has 0 points, but with two games remaining.

Tigres 5, Atlético San Luis 1

The Tigres finally played up to their potential, crushing the outmatched visitors from San Luis Potosí with an impressive first half display, then finishing strong to grab a key tie-breaker against the Tuneros.

Raúl Torres (minute 14), Javier Aquino (37) and Edu Vargas (43) notched first-half goals in a dominating performance by the host Tigres who came into the game in last place in the group.

Atlético San Luis goalie Roberto Salcedo played a tremendous match. If he had not been on his game, the Tigres easily might have reached double figures in goals.

The Tigres continued to press, frequently denied by Salcedo, until the Tuneros broke a poorly executed offside trap on a free kick in minute 62 and Juan Antonio Portales easily slotted home as three San Luis players were in alone on the keeper.

The outcome was never in doubt and Vargas scored again in minute 79 before Enner Valencia closed the book with a 90th-minute goal. The Tigres are now level on points with San Luis but with a key tiebreaker – goal differential in head-to-head matches (San Luis won their first clash 2-1).

The Tigres and San Luis have 4 points to share the lead in Group 9, and Tapachula trails with 2 points.

Cruz Azul 2, Zacatepec 0

Milton Caraglio and Martín Cauteruccio scored second-half goals against the shorthanded Cañeros as the Cementeros grabbed control of Group 6.

Zacatepec midfielder Ángel Gaspar was tossed from the game in minute 36 and Cruz Azul was able to dominate possession for the remainder of the game. The Cementeros were unable to exploit their advantage immediately as their offense looked too mechanical (late to react to openings, slow with passes, uneven in their spacing). Too often, fullbacks José Madueña and Antonio Sánchez dribbled into trouble or failed to deliver accurate centering passes.

Finally, in minute 58, Ángel Mena spread the defense with a quick pass to Sánchez on the left flank and his low cross was cleverly tipped into the net by Caraglio.

In minute 90, Cauteruccio was sprung into the box to the left of goal, he stopped, cut back and right-footed a laser inside the far post that goalie Juan Carlos Orozco had no chance of stopping.

Orozco was called upon to make several tough saves for the visitors, keeping the game close but the Cañeros could not solve the veteran Cementero defense led by Pablo Aguilar and Igor Lichnovsky.

Cruz Azul leads the group with 7 points, followed by Zacatepec with 3 and Atlas in last with 1 point.

Celaya 2, Santos 0

Second-division Celaya ended Santos’ last hope of getting out of the group stage with a steady performance, taking the lead right after halftime and scoring the clincher in minute 92.

The first half was a wide-open affair, with Celaya creating the better chances. In minute 33, Santos midfielder Diego de Buen blocked a Juan Ricardo Roldán shot on the goal line with his shoulder after his goalie, Carlos Acevedo, left the goal mouth to contest a centering pass.

In minute 47, Celaya defender Alexis Silva was unmarked behind the defense as a deflected corner kick was re-centered into the box. Silva headed home from close range.

More from Viva Liga MX

The Toros settled back into a defensive posture and prevented Santos from generating momentum on offense. Celaya was also quite effective on the counter, forcing Santos to be cautious as it pressed forward for the equalizer.

In extra time, Ángel Reyna fired a free kick into the upper left corner of the net to clinch the win for the home side.

Celaya now has 4 points in Group 5, trailing Pachuca (6 points) and Santos sits in the cellar with 1 point.