América simply owns Cruz Azul and there seems little that the Cementeros can do to change that fact.
Since 1984, América and Cruz Azul have met in the playoffs on 13 occasions and the Aguilas have emerged triumphant 10 times. That includes last season’s Final when No. 2 seed América bullied top-seeded Cruz Azul, shutting out the Cementeros and winning the title on a 2-0 scoreline.
After América’s 3-1 victory in the first leg of the Clausura 2019 quarterfinals, there seems to be little doubt as to the outcome. That would seem to be especially true because on the seven previous occasions that América fashioned a lead in the first leg, Cruz Azul never managed to stage a comeback.
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This time around, Cruz Azul would have to defeat the Aguilas by 3 or more goals, or win 2-0 or 3-1. Any other result will see No. 5 América move forward in defense of their title.
Cruz Azul was holding its own against the Aguilas in the first half, taking an early lead from a Milton Caraglio penalty kick. An own goal by Cementeros defender Igor Lichnovsky only 6 minutes later took the wind out of their sales, but the two teams seemed headed for the locker room at the half knotted at 1-1. Instead, in stoppage time, striker Roger Martínez was given too much room above the half moon and he moved to his left and fired a low, left-footed blast that zipped inside the left post. Cruz Azul was unable to recover as the Aguilas tightened the noose and Martínez added another in minute 74 to seal the deal.
Cruz Azul: 4-1-4-1
Domínguez – Aguilar – Lichnovsky – Aldrete
Méndez – Pineda – Yotun – Alvarado
Midfield magician Orbelín Pineda is a game-time decision after he left the first match in minute 9 following a clash with América goalie Agustín Marchesín that left him with a badly bruised knee. If he can jog by 6 p.m. tonight, I expect him to be in the line-up. Midfielder Roberto Alvarado has to make his presence felt and Edgar Méndez has to make better decisions. Coach Pedro Caixinha has little help available on the bench, so there is not much he can do tactically.
Aguilar – Valdez – Aguilera – Sánchez
Álvarez – Rodríguez
Ibarra – Martínez – Ibarguen
Even though Roger Martínez lines up behind Nico Castillo, he flows forward into a front-line position and he was able to find space between the defenders in the first leg. Edson Álvarez missed the first leg after he tweaked his knee in the season finale, but he should be ready to go tonight. Of course, with the 2-goal advantage, coach Miguel Herrera could opt to stick with Matheus Uribe and give his defensive ace another few days rest. Renato Ibarra and Andrés Ibarguen will use their speed and dribbling skills to torment the Cementeros fullbacks.
Cruz Azul: Midfielder Roberto Alvarado took over some of the playmaking responsibilities after Elías Hernández went down with a season-ending injury two months ago, but he was AWOL against América on Thursday night. If he is not able to find some inspiration (and if Pineda is limited by his knee injury), Cruz Azul will rarely get a sniff at goal.
América: Central defenders Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera have become an imposing force in front of goalie Marchesín. And with Guido Rodríguez sweeping things clear in front of them, they are rarely overworked. The two defenders are equally dangerous from set pieces and that could be where they contribute in the second leg.
Cruz Azul just gets that deer-in-the-headlights look when América is standing in front of them and their thin roster only makes that fear more valid. The Cementeros need goals and Milton Caraglio can’t carry the load by himself with two Aguilas draped all over him when he nears the goalie box. This would seem to be a perfect game for América to launch counter-attack after counter-attack, and they can be potent on the break. This is another Junior Classic that will be registered in América’s victory column.