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Toluca open the Liguilla with home win over leader Cruz Azul

Toluca got a 2-1 win in the first leg of the Quarterfinals series against 1st placed Cruz Azul.

Toluca v Cruz Azul - Playoffs Torneo Guard1anes 2021 Liga MX Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Toluca surprised Cruz Azul by giving them their first loss since January, grabbing a 2-1 win in the first leg of the quarterfinal. Behind two penalty kicks, the second being very controversial, Toluca was able to give Cruz Azul their first loss since January 16 when they lost 1-0 to Puebla. Cruz Azul will need to get back and build on their away goal when they host Toluca in the return leg on Saturday.

The first half started with the surprise that although Toluca came out with their normal starting lineup, Cruz Azul came with one with many changes, very similar to the one they used in the CONCACAF Champions League. Their best player Jonathan Rodriguez was on the bench as Cruz Azul started with Brayan Angulo and Walter Montoya up top. Other players like Orbelin Pineda and Yoshimar Yotun also were in the bench for the start. After a couple of minutes, Luis Romo jumped and looked to have elbowed Diego Rigonato. Rigonato looked to have been seriously injured with a possible broken nose, and Romo got a yellow card because of it. Minutes later, Rigonato had to be carted off because of the injury and Haret Ortega got subbed in for him. Cruz Azul had the first opportunity when Romo got the ball in the area and although he did a good job to lower the ball, he would lose it after three Toluca players jumped to get the ball off him. Toluca had their first opportunity when Raul Lopez sent a cross into the area that found Michael Estrada, but his header went wide. Minutes later Lopez sent a cross into the area and Juan Escobar ended up pushing Alexis Canelo, and the referee gave a penalty kick to Toluca. Canelo stepped up to take the penalty and with a right footed shot that fooled Cruz Azul’s goalkeeper Jesus Corona, he gave Toluca the 1-0 lead.

Cruz Azul started to respond and after a couple of good attacks, they were able to prevail. Roberto Alvarado made a good pass that found a wide open Pol Fernandez, who then got a great shot from just inside the area that went past Toluca’s goalkeeper Luis Garcia to make it 1-1. Cruz Azul had a great opportunity when Romo found a wide open Montoya, who got off a terrible right footed shot that went well wide, wasting a great chance. The game remained even and the score didn’t change at halftime.

The second half started with both teams going for the win. Early in the half, Rubens Sambueza was brought down in the area and the ref gave another penalty kick to Toluca, although replays showed it was a dubious decision. Michael Estrada stepped up to take it and with a strong right footed shot past Corona gave Toluca the 2-1 lead. Cruz Azul needed to respond and subbed out Walter Montoya and Rafael Baca for Orbelin Pineda and Jonathan Rodriguez. Cruz Azul came close off a corner kick when Rodriguez got a great shot from outside the area, but Garcia made a good stop on the shot. Garcia came up big again when Escobar got a header in the area that forced the keeper to make a great save. Cruz Azul continued to dominate as they started to push up in their need of a goal against a Toluca side that looked to be somewhat shaky. Cruz Azul came close again after a great play by Alvarado finished with a pass to the area that Angulo failed to connect with, wasting a great opportunity and a great play by Alvarado.

After an injury, Michael Estrada was subbed out for Jorge Rodriguez. After Toluca gained some momentum, Cruz Azul subbed out Brayan Angulo, Ignacio Rivero, and Luis Romo for Santiago Gimenez, Elias Hernandez, and Yoshimar Yotun for their final substitutions. Toluca had an incredible chance when a low cross into the area was deflected by Corona slightly, causing the ball to miss a wide open Raul Lopez, who had an open net to score on had the ball gotten to him. Because of another injury, Kevin Castañeda was subbed out for Enrique Triveiro. Cruz Azul could have had an opportunity when Santiago Gimenez rose to get a header, but it went wide. Pineda got off a shot from outside the area but it went well wide and Toluca held on to get the important win in the first leg.

Toluca gave one of their best performance of the year, days after giving another great performance, being the only away team to get a victory in the Repechaje. They did well to stay in play against a Cruz Azul team that was by far the best team of the tournament. Getting a win is a huge boost, as they are now primed to take advantage of Cruz Azul’s possible desperation on Saturday. That being said Cruz Azul dominated the game for stretches and might have deserved at least a tie. Coach Juan Reynoso shocked many fans by having a starting lineup without some of their best players, especially Jonathan Rodriguez. The plan didn’t pay off at all and he might need to correct the ship on Saturday. Cruz Azul should still be favorite on Sunday but unfortunately for him, the ghosts of past Cruz Azul failures might now be making the rounds around Estadio Azteca.