Cruz Azul will certainly be ruing its missed chances as the team travels to Cancun with a slender 2-1 aggregate lead over Atlante. While the Máquina Azul dominated for much of the first leg at the Estadio Azul, they were unable to put more than two goals past Atlante, and missed plenty of chances, including a blocked penalty kick and a shocking miss from winger César Villaluz. Still, with the recuperation of influential midfielder and team captain Gerardo Torrado, Cruz Azul has been given a much needed boost as they travel to one of the most difficult venues in Mexico.
While the aggregate lead makes Cruz Azul slight favorites to advance, seeing as a draw would get them through, they will have to be very cautious against an Atlante side that has been imperious at home this season, only losing once, to Pumas. A one-goal win for Atlante would see it advance as the higher seeded team (i.e. the team with the better point total in the regular season).
Both teams played the first leg at a fairly high tempo, and it looked in the early goings that Cruz Azul was going to struggle with Atlante's quick ball movement as Giancarlo Maldonado volleyed home the opener. However, the quick pace of the game game back to bite Atlante as a giveaway in the middle of the pitch eventually led to Christian Giménez's stunning equalizer, with Cruz Azul beginning to control possession after. Slack defending further hurt Atlante, as the defense was embarrassed on Giménez's equalizer, before a glaring error from longtime Monterrey man Diego Ordaz gifted Giménez the go-ahead goal in the second half.
While Cruz Azul's penalty and Arturo Muñoz's subsequent second yellow card in the 67th minute were certainly questionable, Atlante felt justice was done as Diego Ordaz turned it behind for a corner. Nonetheless the visitors were let off the hook in the ensuing minutes after Gonzalo Pineda's header from the resulting corner rebounded off the post. In the late stages of the game, Mexico international César Villaluz missed a golden opportunity to seriously dent Atlante's hopes of advancing when he misjudged a flicked on ball in front of an open goal, allowing the Atlante defense to recover enough to shut down the scoring chance.
First leg highlights:
Even though Cruz Azul missed a chance to take a 3-1 or even 4-1 advantage to Cancun, it received a huge boost after the game with the news that influential midfielder and team captain Gerardo Torrado will be ready to play the second leg after missing the better part of a month through injury. The team coped without the veteran midfielder's presence inasmuch as it got them to the Liguilla and a 2-1 victory in the first leg, but Torrado will certainly be a sight for sore eyes as his team attempts to hold on to a slim deficit.
For Atlante, some serious questions about defense have to be raised. Arturo Muñoz will miss out as a result of his red card in the first leg and Miguel Herrera will have to decide whether to further change up his defensive lineup after Ordaz's poor outing on Wednesday. For Atlante, the best hope rests with the midfield being able to keep pressure off the defense and hold possession, something which it struggled to do in the first leg. Torrado's presence will certainly make it difficult for that to happen, but with just a one goal difference to make up, it is certainly within the realm of possibility for the team to find the conviction and organization to make it happen.
With Atlante needing only a one-goal win and both teams predisposed to attacking, we should see an entertaining matchup on Saturday night in Cancun. Whether Cruz Azul can hold on to their lead and continue their quest for a first title in 13 years or Atlante can continue to play the rule of the upstart will hinge on each team's midfield play and the quality of chances created for two dangerous attacking units. So, expect a few goals and all the entertainment we've come to associate with the Mexican Liguilla. Happy viewing!
You can catch the game in the United States at 10PM EDT on Telemundo.