América is on track to chase the double after stifling the Chivas in a Copa MX quarterfinal. UNAM, Tijuana and Juárez FC are also semifinalists.
The Copa MX semifinals are set with three Liga MX teams and one Ascenso MX team eager to hoist the trophy on April 10. The marquee match was supposed to be the América-Chivas Super Clásico, but Guadalajara never found a way to establish themselves and never got to sniff a semifinal ticket.
Pumas roar into first Cup semifinal in 31 years
On Tuesday night, UNAM outmuscled second division Sinaloa 3-0, spoiling Diego Maradona’s return to Estadio Olímpico Universitario. Luis Jérez scored an own-goal in minute 19 to send the Pumas on their way. UNAM controlled the match but misfired frequently, frustrating coach Bruno Marioni who hoped to have at least a 2-goal lead by halftime.
Sinaloa threatened only rarely and when super-sub Juan Iturbe entered midway through the second half it was only a matter of time before UNAM scored again. Iturbe did the honors himself, scoring with a shot from distance in minute 78. Felipe Mora headed home an insurance goal in minute 90.
The semifinals appearance is the first for UNAM since the 1988 season. They will play second division FC Juárez after the Bravos knocked out Veracruz on penalty kicks Thursday night.
Juárez is only in its 4th year of existence and already it has some impressive history in the Copa MX. Last season, the Bravos – the 15th seed – eliminated No. 2 América in Estadio Azteca on penalty kicks after scoring a late equalizer with a world class team goal.
This time around, Juárez went undefeated in group play and claimed the No. 2 seed. In the Round of 16, the Bravos knocked out visiting León – the current Liga MX leader – also on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw. On Thursday, visiting Veracruz forced a penalty kick shootout by scoring off a header from the run of play just before the final whistle (minute 90+4). Juárez had been trying protect a 2-1 lead since minute 39, but were not helped by atrocious refereeing (to be honest, ref Edgar Ulises Rangel hurt both teams’ chances equally).
In the shootout, Bravos keeper Ivan Vázquez stopped to Tiburones spot kicks and Veracruz captain Carlos Salcido sailed his shot over the crossbar, Juárez made 3 of its 3 penalty kicks to advance with a 3-1 shootout victory.
TV commentators speculated the ref Rangel would not be called upon for another Copa MX match this season. The officials also gave critics reason for complaints by not enforcing the shootout rules, allowing Veracruz goalie Meliton Herández to take two steps off his line before the Bravos player kicked the ball. Fortunately, the shoddy refereeing did not adversely affect the result (although Veracruz can complain they were deprived of 2 penalties during regulation time, while the Bravos only had a claim to 1 missed penalty call).
Juárez will host its semifinal match against UNAM in three weeks. The last second division team to play in a Copa MX semifinal was Zacatepec. Toluca won that semifinal match in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
A Super Clásico that wasn’t
América overwhelmed a callow Chivas team with 2 second-half goals in a game in which Guadalajara never truly showed up. The Wednesday night match was the first of two Super Clásicos this week as the two most popular teams in Mexico square off again Saturday in a league match.
The Aguilas midfield tandem of Edson Álvarez and Guido Rodríguez dominated the middle of the pitch, frustrating Alexis Vega who tried to do too much on his own, often losing possession when over-dribbling. Vega did not seem to trust strike partner Ronaldo Cisneros and squandered several opportunities by holding the ball too long.
Chivas keeper Miguel Jiménez played a sparkling first half, denying Nico Castillo and Renato Ibarra with fine saves. But it only seemed like a matter of time, as little Fernando Beltrán and Dieter Villalpando were outmatched by Álvarez and Rodríguez. And when Miguel Herrera sent in Mateus Uribe in the second half, the Chivas seemed to disappear.
It didn’t help that ref Paco Chacón seemed to have forgotten his whistle, allowing the physical play that obviously favored América. At time, Chacón appeared to be too far from the action and his lack of fitness was apparent, no doubt affecting the quality of the officiating.
Just before the hour mark, América fell back on a familiar pattern – scoring off a free kick. And of course, it was a defender knocking home the goal, another familiar sight from last season when central defenders Bruno Valdés and Emanuel Aguilera wreaked havoc in the box on set pieces.
Valdés scored the only goal the Aguilas would need in minute 59 and Nicolás Benedetti put the game away with a fast-break goal in minute 90+1.
Tijuana edges Morelia
The Xolos slipped past top-seeded Morelia 1-0 when striker Ariel Nahuelpan tapped home after a brilliant set up from Miller Bolaños who squared across the face of goal after being sent free into the box to the right of goal. Erick Castillo generated the scoring chance, dribbling right-to-left across the top of the box before filtering the pass to Bolaños.
The 8th-seeded Xolos will next face No. 4 América in Estadio Azteca in three weeks.