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Liguilla semifinal recap: Cruz Azul advance to the final with a 1-0 victory at home over Monterrey

Monterrey were unable to turn a 1-0 home win into a victory on the road and Cruz Azul advance as the higher seed.

Cruz Azul v Monterrey - Playoffs Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Monterrey’s season ended in the Liguilla much like their Copa MX run did, dominated and outplayed by a Cruz Azul team that has momentum, timely scoring, and a smother defense going for them. Despite the presence of Rogelio Funes Mori, Monterrey could not find a way to score a goal at the Estadio Azteca and Cruz Azul survived a penalty miss to win the match 1-0 and advance to the Liga MX final on the basis of being the higher seeded team.

Cruz Azul seemed nervous in the first few minutes, although the managed to get a decent chance on goal in 10th minute as they applied some pressure on the Monterrey goal, only for the ball to be cleared out to Funes Mori, who was fouled just inside the halfway line and los Rayados relieved the pressure.

Cruz Azul had the bulk of possession in the first half, but Monterrey kept La Maquina at bay, with very few chances created by either team as los Raydos looked to slow the game down and get a goal on the counter or from a broken defensive play by Cruz Azul. The forwards from Cruz Azul did their best to try and get into the box to try and create chances, but the only real chance that Cruz Azul created was when Roberto Alvarado went down in the box without much of a challenge, and a penalty was given to Cruz Azul.

Cruz Azul missed a penalty in the 36th minute as Milton Caraglio took one of the worst shots you’ll ever see on a pitch. The shot missed the outside top corner of the goal and went into the stands, much to the dismay of the assembled Cruz Azul fans.

After the penalty, los Cementeros kept the pressure on for the rest of the half, but without much success. Rodolfo Pizarro had to come off for Monterrey, as it appeared he was injured, and Dorlan Pabón came on to replace him, forcing both Pabón and Hurtado to play out wide in a front three for Monterrey with Funes Mori playing as a lone striker.

The start of the second-half continued much as the first half ended, with La Maquina continuing to mount more pressure on Monterrey, while Monterrey continued to look for a way into the match and a way to get a decent chance on goal for the Rayados to convert.

Cruz Azul would take the lead in the match in the 55th minute after Barovero dealt poorly with a long shot on target. Barovero only parried the ball, and Caraglio pounced on the loose ball and fired the home side level.

VAR was consulted, and despite claims from los Rayados, Stefan Medina had played all of the Cruz Azul players, including Caraglio, onside by being just a fraction behind the line that the Rayados players had been playing to try and set up an offside trap just outside of the penalty box.

Monterrey tried to claw their way back into the match, but this match started to resemble the Copa MX final, in that no matter how much Monterrey tried to get back on the attack, Cruz Azul seemed to just put the match on lockdown once they had the lead.

Jesus Gallardo was brought on for Leonel Vangioni, with a nod to his offensively ability, and later on, when Monterrey were desperate for a goal, Luis Madrigal was brought on for Cesar Montes. With Madrigal and Funes Mori up front, Monterrey were reduced to often just lumping the ball up the pitch and hoping that one of their forwards would be able to win the header, but as it did in the Copa MX final between these two clubs, this strategy seemed pay very few dividends.

In the end, even with five minutes of stoppage time, Monterrey could not find a way to get a goal or get much of anything going. The 1-1 overall scoreline meant that Cruz Azul advanced to the finals, as the rules in Mexico mean that if the teams are level after the two legs, the higher seeded team advances to the next round instead of being settled by extra-time or spot kicks.