The top two seeds in the Liga MX playoffs advanced and await their next opponents in the semifinals.
The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advanced in different manners as León demonstrated that they truly deserved the top seed after they manhandled the visiting Xolos to the tune of a 5-2 aggregate.
Earlier, the Tigres stared elimination in the face when Pachuca scored late to take the lead. Star striker André-Pierre Gignac came to the rescue to save the team from embarrassment.
(#1) León 2, (#8) Tijuana 1
Joel Campbell scored two first-half goals and the Esmeraldas were denied two other goals thanks to strong goaltending by Tijuana’s Manuel Lajud.
Nine minutes in, captain Luis Montes sent a long pass behind the defense and Campbell chased it down before rifling a right-footer past Lajud and inside the far post. Twenty minutes later, MVP candidate Angel Mena finished a fast break by dribbling deep into the box on the right side, then cutting back a cross to the far side to an unmarked Campbell who powered a header inside the near post.
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Xolos striker Gustavo Bou cut the lead in half just before halftime and had a 72nd-minute goal called out for offside. Tijuana hustled throughout, chasing the game from the outset, playing a physical style that led to a few shoving matches.
Early in the second half, the Esmeraldas spent a good 10 minutes flowing into the box and wasting scoring chance after scoring chance. Tijuana then grabbed control of the match and spent the final 30 minutes testing León goalie Rodolfo Cota who made three saves, one of which – a splendid save in which he made a full-length dive to parry a shot around the post – was the direct result of his own giveaway.
León now awaits the results of Sunday’s matches to find out who its semifinal opponent will be.
(#2) Tigres 1, (#7) Pachuca 1
André-Pierre Gignac hustled in from the back side to knock home the game-saving goal with a flying header, outracing Alfonso Blanco before tumbling head-over-heels as the clock hit the 84th minute (see photo at top).
The second-seeded Tigres advanced on the 2-2 aggregate score based on their regular-season record, sending the No. 7 Tuzos home to wonder what if …
The visitors had taken the lead in minute 81 when second-half sub Angel Sagal poked home a corner kick that had been slightly redirected by teammate Ismael Sosa. Tigres defender Carlos Salcedo was lax in his marking and Sagal, just 5 meters in front of goal, stuck out his left foot and the ball rippled the back of the net.
But just like in the first leg (when Javier Aquino scored for the Tigres to tie the match at 1-1 only 3 minutes after Pachuca had taken the lead), the Tigres responded quickly.
Needing a goal to avoid an early Liguilla exit, the Tigres finally started buzzing around the Tuxos penalty area. Rafa Carioco lofted a cross from near infield that Tigres skipper Guido Pizarro and Tuzos defender Oscar Murillo leaped for but failed to reach. The ball bounded to the left of goal into the path of the prowling Frenchman.
Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti no doubt is relieved that his club still has life, but he can’t be happy with the way his team played. Though Ferretti preaches possession and patience, the “felinos” were too deliberate, often declining to make open passes or simply not being decisive enough. The Tigres had 0 shots on goal at halftime despite 65% possession, although Gignac came close to scoring in minute 15 when he rifled a volley just over the net from a sharp angle.
Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzmán played well again, blocking an Erick Aguirre blast in minute 23 and making 4 saves on the game.
Ref Jorge Antonio Pérez Durán appeared to be bending over backwards to avoid favoring the home side in the first half, calling fouls – even invisible ones – on the Tigres. His assistants were no better. In one sequence, an offside against Pachuca was missed and it resulted in a corner kick even though no Tigres player had touched the ball before it went over the end line. Fortunately, their shortcomings did not affect the outcome.