León, Tigres escape tough tests in Liga MX quarters

Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac celebrates after teammate Carlos Salcedo scored the series-winning goal against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac celebrates after teammate Carlos Salcedo scored the series-winning goal against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Liga MX quarters final
Angel Mena announces his presence after scoring León’s first goal in the club’s Liga MX quarterfinals match against Puebla. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /

Third-seeded León and No. 4 Tigres overturned 2-1 first-leg deficits Sunday night to set up an attractive semifinal clash, providing the Esmeraldas a chance to avenge their loss to the Tigres in the Clausura 2019 Liga MX Final.

The León-Puebla series was an exact replay of the Guardianes 2020 quarterfinals exactly a year ago when “La Fiera” was outplayed in the first leg before restoring order with a 2-0 win in the return match. Angel Mena netted both goals for the hosts on Sunday – the second from the penalty spot in minute 80 – as León survived a street brawl to advance to the Liga MX Final Four.

Puebla seemed to be playing a version of Rollerball, committing 22 fouls and earning six yellow cards. It should have been more, but ref Jorge Pérez Duran acted like he happened upon a soccer match in the park and sat down to enjoy the view.

Ref Duran’s shortcomings also victimized the Camoteros as he missed a clear penalty on León defender Stevin Barreiro in the first half, an oversight that certainly would have changed the tenor of the match had it been called.

León roars back to life

After a dismal showing on Thursday, the Esmeraldas bounced back with better ball movement and improved spacing. The presence of Santi Ormeño at the point of attack (only his third start all season) also put pressure on the Camoteros’ defense.

In minute 25, Mena put León out in front after a hustling Víctor Dávila nodded a throw-in just enough to send it bouncing to Mena all alone at the back post and the Ecuadorian winger buried it. The penalty was awarded thanks to Video Assistant Replay after an inadvertent handball in the box by Israel Reyes that everyone in the stadium saw except Pérez Duran and his side judge.

First-year coach Ariel Holan had to be pleased with the performance by goalie Rodolfo Cota who made four huge saves. There was more good news – skipper Luis Montes returned to the pitch (subbing in just after the hour) after missing the last six games of the regular season as well as Thursday’s first leg in Puebla.

Last year’s Liga MX finalist comes up short

Santos was eight minutes away from a trip to the semifinals when the unlikeliest of heroes stepped up for the Tigres. Much maligned defender Carlos Salcedo gathered in a pass from André-Pierre Gignac inside the box, changed direction to create space, then ripped a left footer under the cross bar just past a lunging Carlos Acevedo.

The lone goal was enough to advance the Tigres on a 2-2 aggregate score thanks to its better regular-season record. The outcome short-circuited Santos’ quest to return to the Liga MX finals a season after the Guerreros lost to Cruz Azul in the championship series.

Next. Pumas knock out No. 1 América, No. 2 Atlas next. dark

As the lower seed in the semifinals, the Tigres won’t benefit from this season’s new Liga MX playoff rules as they will have to outscore León to reach the finals.