No. 6 Necaxa takes a slim lead to Monterrey for the second leg while defending champion América manhandled No. 4 seed Cruz Azul.
The underdog Rayos of Necaxa scored just before halftime and made the lead stand up to take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their quarterfinal series against No. 3 Monterrey. Necaxa will bemoan not expanding their advantage, however, after Monterrey was forced to play the final 51 minutes with 10 men.
In Estadio Azteca, América suffered an early penalty but recovered to throttle Cruz Azul in a rematch of last season’s Grand Final. A Cruz Azul own goal shortly thereafter stifled the Cementeros’ momentum and Roger Martínez scored twice to give the Aguilas breathing room heading into the return match.
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Necaxa 1, Monterrey 0
Playing without leading scorer Brian Fernández, the seventh-seeded Rayos scored in first-half stoppage time, but failed to convert several other scoring chances during a free-flowing second half.
Monterrey surged forward effectively in the early stages of the first-leg quarterfinal contest, but could not find the target. Things changed in minute 39 when Rayados forward Avilés Hurtado was shown his second yellow card and sent to the showers after stamping on the foot of Necaxa’s Fernando González.
Just before the break, Rayos left back Cristián Calderón took off on a mazy run then continued into the box after laying off a pass. The ball went wide to Daniel Álvarez on the opposite side of the field and his centering pass found Calderón unmarked in front of goal. Calderón’s header bulged the back of the net and the hosts were up 1-0.
With the man advantage in the second half, Necaxa enjoyed comfortable possession and patiently pushed the ball forward. Unfortunately, Monterrey keeper Marcelo Barovero was on his game and he made three sparkling second-half saves to keep the game close.
Necaxa was undisciplined at the back, however, and Monterrey was able to mount a few counterattacks, but goalie Hugo González made the two saves he was called upon to make. Rodolfo Pizarro was able to find space and looked to create offense, but his Rayados teammates never managed to get on track.
No. 3 seed Monterrey will host the return match on Sunday, knowing it must prevent Necaxa from getting a critical away goal. The Rayados know the Rayos are among the league’s best road teams and Monterrey will be without Hurtado who is likely to get a one-game suspension.
América 3, Cruz Azul 1
The defending champion Aguilas got better as the game went on, while Cruz Azul misfired too often, then withered under heavy América pressure.
Cruz Azul’s leading scorer Milton Caraglio converted a penalty kick in minute 15, giving the Cementeros an early shot of emotion. Six minutes later, defender Igor Lichnovsky scored an own goal, puncturing Cruz Azul’s confidence.
Things had gotten complicated for Cruz Azul when playmaker Orbelín Pineda went out with a leg injury only 9 minutes into the match after crashing into goalie Agustín Marchesín. It was made even more difficult by poor performances from midfielders Roberto Alvarado and Yoshimar Yotún, both of whom made frequent passing errors and questionable decisions. Their ineffectiveness was compounded by the disappearance of Caraglio who failed to create space and was constantly pushed out of position or beaten to the ball.
The Aguilas allowed Cruz Azul to hold possession but never allowed the Cementeros to get comfortable up front. Poor passing further limited the Cementeros scoring chances and they were occasionally caught scrambling back to chase down América’s potent counter-attack.
Cruz Azul coach Pedro Caixinha exhibited a lack of confidence in his bench – already depleted by injury – and did not make a substitution until after Martínez scored his second goal to give América a 3-1 lead. Aguilas winger Andrés Ibarguen found Martínez unmarked at the top of the box as four defenders leaned toward the near side of the play. The Colombian striker gathered and quickly flicked homea right-footer before the Cementeros could react.
The two Mexico City teams face off in Estadio Azteca again on Sunday night with Cruz Azul acting as the home team. The Cementeros could advance with a 2-0 win, but they’d have to play considerably better to pull that off.