Photo: Getty Images
By Kyle McCarthy
Cruz Azul claimed a 1-0 victory over bitter rivals Club América in the first leg of the Liguilla final on Thursday night, but the modest margin between the teams leaves both sides with a chance to lift the trophy.
Both sides failed to hit their best in a bland affair hindered by the rainy and slippery conditions at Estadio Azul and tempered by the looming second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night.
América manager Miguel Herrera played his part in removing some of the excitement by naming a conservative side (the usual 5-3-2 setup with the now customary pair of holding midfielders) and telling his players to keep the match as narrow as possible inside their own half. The approach worked for the most part with in-form winger Pablo Barrera only a fleeting influence on the proceedings.
Barrera’s primary contribution to the affair created the only goal of the game, though. His enticing service from a corner kick after 19 minutes – plus some inexplicably shoddy marking from Miguel Layún – allowed Christian Giménez to nod home inside the far post.
Photo: Getty Images
América eventually mustered a response and took control in the second half, but they failed to produce the equalizer required to grasp firm control of the tie. Christian Benítez flickered in and out of the match, but he forced a fine reaction save from Jesús Corona shortly after the hour mark. Subsequent efforts from anywhere and everywhere inside of 30 yards troubled Corona only occasionally as the match petered out in the late stages.
Both sides will enter the second leg with plenty of belief given the result in the first leg. Cruz Azul can point to its one-goal cushion and say that a draw at Estadio Azteca will hand them the title. América will note that it brushed aside La Máquina 3-0 at the same venue in March and retained its chances of progressing by mitigating the first leg damage.
Although the match as a whole lacked the excitement and the quality (if not the tomfoolery, particularly in the wake of the second half entrapment and headbutting incident between Giménez and Aquivaldo Mosquera) expected from two capable outfits, it did set up the second leg quite nicely. Both title-starved outfits will hope their payoff arrives with a trophy on Sunday night.