The Mexican Primera postseason can be both maddening and mesmerizing. On the surface it may appear as simply an extension of the regular season, but just one round of the playoffs is usually enough to flip four months of results on their head. Upsets suddenly become the norm when you step into the Liguilla vortex, a place where the top seed is actually expected to be knocked off.
This year's edition of the playoffs was no different, as a dazzling and dumbfounding opening round ended with the top two teams left behind in the dust. Regular season champs Chivas succumbed to the superlider curse, while #2-seed Cruz Azul added another chapter to their growing volume of postseason misery. Surviving and moving on to the semifinals are surprising #8-seed Queretaro, along with a red-hot Morelia, an imposing Tigres, and a streaking Santos Laguna.
Below you will find previews of this week's semifinal match-ups, along with game schedules and television broadcast information.
#3 UANL Tigres vs. #8 Queretaro Gallos Blancos
The big knock on this Tigres team all season has been their lack of goal scoring. In one half against Pachuca on Sunday, the team finally took some revenge -- firing an on-target shot across the bow of the critics. With goals from Manuel Viniegra, Lucas Lobos, and Damian Alvarez, Tigres steamrolled Pachuca on their way to the semifinal round. It was an impressive all-around performance, and positions Tigres as the favorites of the remaining teams to lift the trophy. The Tigres defense has been strong all season, but when the offense is firing on all cylinders as they were against Pachuca, this team becomes close to unbeatable.
Queretaro did earn a result against Tigres (a scoreless draw) when the teams met during the regular season. Although, one can't draw too many conclusions from this result, as it occurred back in July and came under Queretaro manager Gustavo Matosas who was fired a few weeks later. What the Gallos Blancos can count on, though, is the stellar form of Liborio Sanchez. The goalkeeper was magnificent in the first round upset of Chivas, and Tigres will certainly have a tougher time finding the back of net than against the porous Pachuca backline.
#4 Santos Laguna vs. #7 Monarcas Morelia
For a team that snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, Morelia sure looked like they belonged during the first round. Monarcas dispatched the #2-seeded Cruz Azul with shocking ease last week in a pair of 2-1 victories. The two wins keep Morelia's blazing hot late-season form intact (the team has not lost since October 1st), as they look to book a trip to the Liguilla finals for the second consecutive season.
Standing in their way is the intimidating attacking front of Santos Laguna. The pressure will be firmly on the Morelia defense this week, as they take on the task of somehow stopping the arsenal of Santos scoring weapons. In the final week of the regular season, Monarcas succeeded in holding Santos scoreless for a half (the two teams were playing the final portion of their August match, which was abandoned just before halftime due to gunfire outside the stadium in Torreon). The task of keeping Santos off the scoresheet again -- this time over a two-legged series -- will be infinitely more difficult. The key is the opening match on Wednesday night. Morelia have been excellent at home this year, and if they can grab a win in the first leg -- like they did against Cruz Azul -- the door to the finals will be wide open.