Fourth-seeded Pachuca marched into Estadio BBVA Bancomer and did exactly what it needed to do – play 90 minutes of defense.
The hustling Tuzos scrambled and battled all game long, efficiently protecting the 3-goal lead they carried with them from the first leg.
Guillermo Almada’s men maintained tactical discipline and frustrated second-seeded Monterrey throughout the tense match, eventually producing a late counterattack that led to a penalty call.
Former Rayados winger Avilés Hurtado converted the spot kick and his celebration prompted a mini-riot as his ex-teammates hurled invective and heaps of verbal abuse.
First-time Finals opponents
Pachuca is in its second consecutive Liga MX Final – the Tuzos lost to Atlas last season – and is in search of its sixth league championship, and first since 2016.
In order to hoist the trophy next weekend, Pachuca will have to defeat No. 6 seed Toluca who are in the hunt for their 11th league title.
These clubs have never met in a Liga MX Final before. Their last playoff meeting came 12 years ago in the Clausura 2010 semifinals.
The Apertura 2022 Finals will open Thursday at Toluca’s Estadio Nemesio Díez with the return match on Sunday at Estadio Hidalgo.
The two teams met this season on Matchday 11 in Toluca with the Tuzos routing the Diablos Rojos 4-1.
Pachuca prevent defense holds up
The Tuzos did the unthinkable. They went into the lion’s den and stood up to the beast.
They not only protected their 5-2 first-leg advantage, they handed the Rayados their first setback at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer.
Monterrey lost only two games all season – the fewest losses in Liga MX – and Pachuca defeated the Rayados twice.
It helped that few of Monterrey’s 24 shots really tested Tuzos skipper Oscar Ustari. Though the Argentine made 11 saves, only a couple required significant effort. That’s because Pachuca played magnificent team defense.
Forwards Nico Ibáñez, Romario Ibarra and Víctor Guzmán pestered the Monterrey back line, making for difficult outlet passes. The front-line trio dropped back to help and the Tuzos midfield harassed ball-handlers through the center of the pitch. At the back, Oscar Murillo and Gustavo Cabral bossed the penalty area, heading crosses away and shutting down passing lanes into the box.
Coach Almada was likely upset at the poor passing in the first half (47% accuracy) but no doubt was pleased with the effort and orderliness.
The Uruguayan coach has now reached his third Liga MX final, but is still looking for his first ring. As head man at Santos Laguna, Almada lost to Cruz Azul in the Clausura 2021 Finals, then guided Pachuca to a runner-up finish last season, his first in charge of the Tuzos.
Liga MX playoff history
Since the short-season format was adopted in 1996, Toluca and Pachuca have reached more finals than any other club in Liga MX – 12.