Gignac ends scoring drought, Necaxa stuns Pachuca in Liguilla quarterfinals
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The semifinals of the Liguilla are set, with Leon, Necaxa, Tigres and Club America in the final four.
Here's the story of the quarterfinals ...
Leon suffers major scare in Tijuana but advances
"We had a disastrous first half," said Leon captain Mauro Boselli after the final whistle, his side beaten 3-2 by Club Tijuana but 5-3 winners on aggregate. Their 3-0 first-leg lead win proved pivotal.
"In the half time talk, there was a lot of shouting."
At half-time, Tijuana had a 3-0 lead over La Fiera, and with it Xolos had one foot in the semifinals.
"Although [Xolos] were in the semifinals at half-time, we knew we had 45 minutes to at least score a goal," said Leon coach Javier Torrente in his post-game news conference.
Leon improved after the break and in the 80th minute, Boselli headed in the goal that sent Los Esmeraldas into the next round. Three minutes later, Luis Montes scored Leon's second. They may have lost their first league match in the Torrente era, but their aggregate win was enough to eliminate the leaders from the regular season.
Gignac ends 862-minute scoring drought
Before Saturday's quarterfinal, Tigres had only scored twice in their last four home games. Against Pumas, they scored five against a side that looked overwhelmed at the thought of getting a win at Tigres' El Volcan. But the headline was not Los Auriazules' five goals, it was rather the reawakening of Andre-Pierre Gignac, who scored a hat trick.
Gignac's last league goal came on Sept. 17 against Puebla. Since then, his productivity rate had been at an all-time low. But his teammates never got impatient. They knew better than anyone else that Gignac's goals would come, and they arrived at the best possible time.
The final 7-2 aggregate score against Pumas was an echoing statement to the league by Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's team, a side that has made substantial transfer moves in recent years. The arrivals of Gignac, Ismael Sosa, Andy Delort, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm and Lucas Zelarayan have made Tigres' attack the league's most dreaded.
America overpowers Chivas after tight clash
A masterful Oribe Peralta header from a corner made the difference in the quarterfinal between America and Chivas as Las Aguilas defeated El Rebano Sagrado 2-1 on aggregate.
Throughout the 180 minutes, America's players played with a lot of personality, well aware of exactly what head coach Ricardo La Volpe wanted from them. The team's defense looked more confident than it has this Apertura as well; veterans Pablo Aguilar and Paolo Goltz led by example, while youngster Edson Alvarez quickly learned how to confront the challenges that arise in a Clasico Nacional.
Meanwhile, Matias Almeyda's Chivas ran out of ideas at the worst possible moment. Although they finished the game with 58 percent possession, they hardly caused serious danger to Las Aguilas' defense. America is now four games away from winning its 13th league title.
Necaxa does the unthinkable, eliminates the defending champions
In a must-win game, Pachuca took 22 shots on goal, nine of them on target. But Necaxa's goalkeeper, Marcelo Barovero, denied Los Tuzos at every possible opportunity. Barovero finished Sunday night with nine saves, and Necaxa eliminated Pachuca 2-1 on aggregate.
When the match came to an end, Pachuca's Estadio Hidalgo was left in shock. The Players, fans and club directors expected to eliminate newly promoted Necaxa, but certain details played a role in the final result. One of them was goalkeeper Oscar Perez's howler in the first leg, which allowed Necaxa to go up 1-0.
Nevertheless, Necaxa showed throughout the 180 minutes that they are not afraid of any Liga MX side and will certainly trouble America in the semifinals.
Several top performances by Mexican footballers in the Liguilla
Liga MX is a league where foreign footballers continue to make the difference for their clubs. Formidable strikers Gignac and Boselli were decisive in crucial scenarios. However, there were also several Mexican footballers who turned in worthwhile displays in the two legs of their respective quarterfinals.
Tigres' Damm scored a stupendous goal in the first leg against Pumas and picked up two assists in the second leg at El Volcan. America's young defender Alvarez enjoyed a strong defensive display in the second leg of the Clasico Nacional, and experienced striker Peralta gave a valiant effort against Chivas in Guadalajara, which was rewarded with the goal that gave Los Azulcremas their ticket to the semifinals.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.