Milton Caraglio made up for a missed penalty kick by scoring the series-winning goal for the Cementeros.
Cruz Azul is in the Liga MX Final for the first time in 5 years after doing the bare minimum to get past Monterrey, thanks to its better regular-season record.
Striker Milton Caraglio slotted home a rebound off a long Adrián Aldrete shot in minute 54 and Cruz Azul defeated Monterrey 1-0 at Estadio Azteca Saturday night. The aggregate score in the series was 1-1 with neither team scoring an away goal. As such, the second tie-break – regular season record – sent top-seeded Cruz Azul through to the final.
Caraglio – a starter in place of the ineffective Martín Cauteruccio – had missed a first-half penalty kick, sending it wide left. The big Argentine had taken the shot that led to the penalty call in minute 35.
Caraglio trapped a shot about 30 meters from goal, spun and fired a left-footer that Monterrey goalie Marcelo Barovero botched, leaving a rebound that Roberto Alvarado raced in to collect only to go down under a challenge from Nico Sánchez. There seemed to be little contact, but the penalty call was upheld … only to be squandered by Caraglio.
Moments before, Monterrey midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro had come up limping and he was subbed out after the penalty miss. This was a critical turning point for the Rayados as they lost their playmaker (Pizarro had been instrumental in helping Monterrey win the first leg at home on Wednesday) and ended up with a gaping hole in the center of the field.
Dorlan Pabón came on as the sub but he plays more on the wing. Cruz Azul was able to adjust its defense to push Monterrey wide and focus on clearing out centering passes, no longer tasked with chasing the elusive Pizarro through the middle of the field.
Both coaches made multiple changes to their starting line-ups but Diego Alonso’s decision to go conservative (starting with a 5-man back line) ended up hurting the Rayados.
Pedro Caixinha kept the same tactical formation from the first leg, but replaced 3 players from Wednesday’s line-up: defender Igor Lichnovsky in for José Madueña; midfielder Javier Salas in for Rafa Baca; and Caraglio for Cauteruccio.
Cruz Azul enjoyed the majority of possession early on as Monterrey sat back, confident that they could record a fourth-straight shut-out. The Cementeros appeared over-anxious at the outset and the Rayados might have been able to take advantage of those early errant passes if they had more numbers forward.
The Cementeros finally settled down and started stringing passes together, probing the Rayados defense. Aldrete looped in a cross in minute 15 that Caraglio deflected just wide of the far post. That miss was indicative of the first half as Cruz Azul managed only 1 shot on goal despite 69% possession.
Cruz Azul displayed patience to open the second half, switching possession from side-to-side and sending a defender forward from time-to-time, while guarding against the counter. Ten minutes in, they got the break they were looking for.
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Iván Marcone collected a clearance near midfield and sent it to Aldrete about 40 meters out from goal just left of center and – with plenty of space – the left back let fly as six Monterrey defenders stood just inside the top of the box. The problem was that at the far left, Stefan Medina was about half a meter deeper in the box.
Goalie Barovero blocked Aldrete’s shot but left a big fat rebound as the five Rayados defenders at the right side turned and watched. Caraglio pounced on the loose ball and poked the rebound inside the left post, but the line judge had raised his flag for offside. Caraglio was indeed just a step behind five of the defenders when the shot was taken but video replay showed that he had been kept onside by Medina and the goal was allowed.
Coach Alonso quickly used his last two substitutions while Cruz Azul packed in its defense and spent the finally 30 minutes clearing centering passes and attempting breakouts. Twice, the Cementeros created 2-on-1 chances only to squander them.
But Cruz Azul didn’t need another goal; all the top seed needed was to prevent Monterrey from scoring, and that they did. While sitting back in a shell, Cruz Azul broke up passes (the Rayados finished the game with a 67% pass completion rate), pressed hard and tackled effectively. Monterrey managed only one shot on goal all game and that was a slow roller from 20 meters that Jesús Corona covered up easily.
With this result, Cruz Azul now awaits the winner of the América-Pumas series for what will be an all-Mexico City Finals. América and the Pumas tied 1-1 in the first leg and Sunday’s second leg will also be played in Estadio Azteca. The Pumas must win or earn a tie with at least 2 goals as they would advance on the away-goals rule.
The last time Cruz Azul reached a Final was after the Clausura 2013 season. The Cementeros lost to América on penalty kicks after allowing two late goals that tied the game. … Cruz Azul has not won a Liga MX title since December 1997. … Saturday’s win was the first time Cruz Azul had ever defeated Monterrey in a playoff game.