The Liga MX Clausura Final is set: Club América - Cruz Azul

It's an all-Mexico City final as Las Aguilas and Los Azules reach the pinnacle of Mexican football for a double-header showdown for the title.
Cruz Azul v America - Torneo Apertura 2016 Liga MX
Cruz Azul v America - Torneo Apertura 2016 Liga MX / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

This past weekend, Club América secured their passage to the final of the Liga MX Clausura play-off by avenging Chivas in the El Clásico de Clásicos semi final.

The two faced at the same stage during the 2022/23 campaign but it was Chivas who stole the bragging rights on that occasion and secured their place in the final.

After suffering defeat in last season's Clausura semi final, Las Aguilas responded with an undefeated 2023 Apertura campaign to qualify for the playoffs as the top seed. Fighting through the playoffs, América ended up victorious, defeating Tigres in the final to win their 14th Liga MX title.

Andre Jardine and his team had the confidence and the belief going into the 2024 Clausura, following their title run in December. Continuing in the same pattern, América suffered just two defeats in 17 to qualify as the top seed for both the Apertura and Clausura during the 2023/24 season.

The first round of the playoffs saw América face Pachuca, a side who they struggled to face in recent times. Pachuca got the better of their Mexico City counterparts in the CONCACAF Champions League to reach the final of that competition just a week prior to their playoff encounter.

Both games during their playoff meeting resulted in a 1-1 draw. But the Liga MX rules that in the event of a draw after 180 minutes, the team that finished higher during the regular season will qualify for the next season. Considering this rule, a 95th-minute equaliser from Julián Quiñones meant that América left it late to secure their passage to the semi final.

As América narrowly scrapped past Pachuca, Chivas managed to get the better of 3rd-seeded Toluca to ensure a replay of last season's semi final.

In the first leg last season's semi final, Las Aguilas got the better of Chivas with a 2-1 win in Guadalajara, but it was in the second leg at the Azteca where Los Rojiblancos won the tie. A 3-1 win in front of 80,000 hopeful fans meant that it would be Chivas who faced Tigres in the final, in place of América.

This time around and the first leg ended in a goalless draw. Turning the attention to the capital and the deciding factor came on the hour mark. América fans starting to become restless, failing to win any of their last four games, knew that a goal for Chivas would put them in the driving seat. However, América prayers were soon answered when an Israel Reyes header glanced towards the far corner from a set piece, meaning that Chivas would need two goals to qualify.

Chivas and their former Real Madrid manager Fernando Gago rolled the dice, bringing on Cade Cowell and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, but ultimately it was not enough as América held on to the win and got their revenge on last season's miserable exit from the tournament.

The story is somewhat different to Cruz Azul, who failed to even qualify for the Apertura playoff. Winning just five of their 17 regular season fixtures, Los Azules miserably bowed out of the competition at an early stage.

However, following their below-par Apertura run, the decision was made to sack Joaquín Moreno, who had been in charge for just four months. In fact, Cruz Azul had changed their manager six times since winning the 2021 Clausura title, with Moreno stepping in on a number of occasions whilst the club looked for a permanent option for the position.

Moreno was replaced by Argentine manager Martín Anselmi, a Copa Sudamericana winner with Independiente del Valle in Ecuador. His CV after two years of management provided enough for Azul to pull the trigger, in search of something different to give them a chance before the 2024 Clausura season.

In the space of a few months, Anselmi turned everything around. Ten wins from 17, Azul qualified for the playoffs as the second-best team, only behind América.

The playoffs for Azul started with an all-Mexico City affair as they faced Pumas UNAM in a double header quarter final.

Winning the away first leg 2-0, Igancio Rivero and Lorenzo Farelli scored the all-important games with a statement win, before drawing 2-2 in the second leg to remarkably turn their season around.

The semi final was set and Monterrey was the opposition. Azul took the advantage up north, winning 1-0 at the Estadio BBVA. Following an Alexis Gutiérrez effort from range, the parried rebound fell generously to Carlos Rotondi to set up a perfect second leg for the Mexico City side.

This past weekend's second leg caused moments of nerves, but Cruz Azul managed to hold on. Los Azules looked in a great position to qualify when Angel Sepulveda doubled their aggregate lead, but a late charge from Monterrey gave for a nervy finale. Two goals from German Berterame gave Los Rayados hope that they could pull off the remontada, but Azul qualified based on their league position as the aggregate score ended 2-2.

All eyes now turn to the capital as Cruz Azul will welcome Club América to the Estadio Ciudad de los Deportes on Thursday 23rd May, 18:00 before facing the second leg at the Estadio Azteca on Sunday 26th May 2024.

Will Club América win their record-making 15th title, or will Cruz Azul end their three year wait for silverware and return to the summit of Mexican football?