Tigres avoid upset; Cementeros escape tough León challenge

Tigres star André Pierre-Gignac salutes the crowd after scoring against Necaxa in a Liga MX wildcard match. Gignac scored both Tigres goals to lead the club into the quarterfinals. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Tigres star André Pierre-Gignac salutes the crowd after scoring against Necaxa in a Liga MX wildcard match. Gignac scored both Tigres goals to lead the club into the quarterfinals. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images) /
Liga MX wildcard 2
Ignacio Rivero (left) of Cruz Azul exults after scoring his team’s goal in their Liga MX wildcard match against León. The Cementeros advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to the 1-0 victory. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Two second-half goals by André Pierre Gignac – the first a spectacular 25-meter free kick – led fifth-seeded Tigres into a quarterfinal match-up with Pachuca, while Cruz Azul outlasted León to also claim a spot in the “Liguilla.”

Liga MX Wildcard Weekend continues Sunday with No. 6 Toluca hosting No. 11 FC Juárez and ninth-seeded Guadalajara paying a visit to eighth-seeded Puebla

Cruz Azul will know its quarterfinals opponent after the Diablos-Bravos match. If Toluca wins, the Cementeros will face Monterrey (and the Diablos will tangle with third-seeded Santos Laguna).

If FC Juárez upsets “los Choriceros,” the Cementeros will have to take on No. 2 Monterrey, while the Bravos would get paired with top-seeded América.

Underdog Rayos squander advantage

Twenty minutes into the match at “El Volcán,” Tigres right back Javier Aquino strayed too far forward, lost control of his dribble then clattered into Facundo Batista as he sought to recover the ball. Ref César Ramos didn’t hesitate, brandishing the red card and sending Aquino to the showers.

Suddenly, the Liga MX powerhouse seemed ripe for a stunning upset, but the visiting Rayos failed to grab hold of the game. At halftime, Tigres had the only two shots on goal and had held 56% possession.

Just 3 minutes after the restart, Necaxa’s Facundo Batista recklessly pursued Raymundo Fulgencio, stepping on the back of his leg as he gave chase. Out came the red card and the advantage was gone.

Just before the hour mark, another needless foul set up Gignac for a free kick and the Frenchman let fly, zipping a shot over the wall and into the upper left corner of the net. Luis Malagón had no chance.

Basically, the game was over right there. The Liga MX minnows had little chance to dent the host’s defense.

In minute 73, a lackadaisical clearance off a corner kick allowed Tigres to keep possession, and the Liga MX giants quickly found Guido Pizarro inside the box. The rugged midfielder sent it wide to an unmarked Fulgencio and he fired a low cross into the goal mouth that found Gignac’s head and it was 2-0. That was all she wrote.

Cruz Azul pushes win streak to five

In Saturday’s other Liga MX wildcard match, No. 7 seed Cruz Azul finished off a quick strike in minute 72 for the lone goal of the match then survived a tense ending that saw each team denied a penalty in stoppage time.

The Cementeros seemed destined for disappointment as they could not solve the León offside trap, getting whistled for that infraction five times, one of which wiped out a goal. Esmeraldas goalie Rodolfo Cota added to the club’s frustration with seven saves, six of which were from point-blank range!

“La Máquina” attacked down the right side frequently and the game-winner came from there as well. Uriel Antuna escaped his marker to the end line an sent a low cross that a lunging Cota fumbled. Cementeros left wing-back Ignacio Rivero pounced on the loose ball and poked it into the net.

León had controlled possession and tempo for large stretches of the match, but could not shoot straight. “La Fiera” managed just a single shot on goal all game despite 59% possession.

Now Cruz Azul must await the outcome of the Toluca-FC Juárez match.

A Liga MX first for the Bravos

Upstart FC Juárez is in its very first Liga MX postseason and its debut will take place in “La Bombonera.”

Estadio Nemesio Diéz has long been an inferno for Diablos Rojos opponents but FC Juárez will not be intimidated. The Bravos are led by long-time Toluca goalie Alfredo Talavera and Diablos academy product Alan Medina helped spark the club’s stretch run.

In addition, Bravos coach Hernán Cristante knows the atmosphere well. Cristante is a legend at Toluca, starring as a goalie on six Liga MX title-winning teams for “los Choriceros.” Cristante also made his Liga MX coaching debut for the Diablos Rojos, even guiding the club to a Liga MX Final as a No. 1 seed back in May 2018.

Next. Liga MX By the Numbers. dark

The Bravos and Diablos fought to a 1-1 draw in the Liga MX regular season back on Matchday 6 with both goals coming in the final four minutes of the match.