The 8-team playoff field is set for the Apertura 2018 Liguilla after a wild Saturday night in Liga MX that saw Querétaro claim the 8th seed with a gritty 1-0 victory over Necaxa.
The Gallos Blancos qualified for the Liga MX postseason for the first time since losing in the Clausura 2015 finals to Santos, slipping past Morelia and Pachuca either of whom would have earned a playoff berth with a win on Matchday 17.
Querétaro’s reward is a quarterfinal date with top-seeded Cruz Azul, but the Gallos Blancos will not be intimidated since they handily defeated the Cementeros on Oct. 19 in a Matchday 13 clash at Estadio Corregidora.
With two Sunday games yet to be played, the current standings find Cruz Azul in 1st place, followed by América, Monterrey, Tigres, Pumas, Santos, Toluca and Querétaro. Santos visits Pumas at noon Sunday while Toluca visits Lobos BUAP at 4 pm.
On Saturday afternoon, Querétaro scored a late first-half goal then withstood a determined rally by the visiting Rayos by closing off shooting lanes and pouncing on every counterattacking opportunity to relieve pressure. Necaxa only managed 2 shots on goal despite sustained possession in their attacking third for the first 20 minutes of the second half. During the final 25 minutes of the match, Necaxa too often settled for long-range shots that never really tested Querétaro goalie Tiago Volpi.
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The Gallos Blancos goal came in minute 42 from the boot of fullback Miguel Samudio, his first goal in Liga MX since September 2015 when he was still toiling for América. Necaxa’s defense had blocked two close-range shots in quick succession but the second rebound fell to the Paraguayan defender near the top of the box and he side-stepped a tackle before ripping a low shot through a crowd that rippled the back of the net.
Shortly after Querétaro had closed out its victory, the Pachuca-León match kicked off and the Tuzos needed a win against the 13th-place Esmeraldas to steal the 8th seed from the Gallos Blancos. But Pachuca did not rise to the occasion despite taking a lead in minute 27, settling for a 1-1 tie after Mauro Boselli equalized only 4 minutes after Franco Jara had revved up the crowd with his opener.
Pachuca enjoyed considerable possession but could not parlay that into quality shots on goal. Sloppy passing and poor decision-making contributed to the Tuzos second-straight draw. National teamers Víctor Guzmán and Erick Aguirre had particularly disappointing performances.
Elsewhere, América crushed last-place Veracruz 4-1 to clinch the No. 2 seed, Monterrey subdued Atlas 3-1 to momentarily move into third place and the Tigres edged past Guadalajara 1-0 when fullback Chaka Rodríguez blasted home the winner in second-half injury time.
Until Chaka scored, we were looking at a likely Tigres-América quarterfinal pairing, a match-up that many pundits might have predicted for the final. As it is, we could be in for a Clásico Regiomontano in the quarterfinals if there is a winner in the Pumas-Santos match. That would be a mouth-watering treat for Liga MX soccer fans.