Cruz Azul survives late Aguilas charge, will face Chivas in Copa por México final

Michael Estrada celebrates after putting Cruz Azul ahead 2-0 from the penalty spot. The Cementeros defeated América 2-0 to advance to the Copa por México final. (Photo by Jonathan Mondragon/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Michael Estrada celebrates after putting Cruz Azul ahead 2-0 from the penalty spot. The Cementeros defeated América 2-0 to advance to the Copa por México final. (Photo by Jonathan Mondragon/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Cruz Azul Chivas
Sebastián Pérez Bouquet (right) helped Guadalajara defeat Atlas in the Clásico Tapatío Tuesday night. The 19-year-old midfielder is expected to play a big role for the Chivas in the upcoming Liga MX season. (Photo by Carlos Zepeda/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul survived a late América comeback bid to advance to the Copa por México final where the Cementeros will face Guadalajara who arrive with a perfect 4-0-0 record after edging past crosstown rivals Atlas.

“La Máquina Azul” scored twice in the first half (Rodolfo Rotondi finishing off a nifty solo run and Michael Estrada converting from the penalty spot just before halftime) then took their foot off the pedal and the Aguilas took advantage.

Last season’s top seed in the Liga MX playoffs narrowed the gap in minute 56 behind a lovely chip from inside the box by wingback Salvador Reyes.

The Aguilas – needing a win to qualify for the Copa final – pressed forward and rained crosses into Jesús Corona’s box the rest of the match but could not find the equalizer let alone the winner.

Bench-clearing scuffle

Midway through the second half, Estrada roughly knocked América defender Israel Reyes to the ground and Aguilas players reacted angrily. Álvaro Fidalgo ran 40 yards to shove Estrada and that prompted several rough body-checks as both dugouts cleared. No punches were thrown though a bench player for each side was ejected.

The Cementeros managed to see out the win (a draw would have gotten Cruz Azul into the final) as Corona made a brilliant reflex save of a Brian Rodríguez laser, deflecting the close-range shot off the underside of the crossbar.

América will now have to nurse their wounds until the Clausura 2023 kicks off in 10 days – the Aguilas open against the worst team in Liga MX, Querétaro – while coach Fernando Ortiz has two big decisions to make.

Since captain and first-choice goalie Memo Ochoa departed for Italy’s Serie A, Ortiz must decide who will start between the pipes – last season’s back-up Oscar Jiménez or Necaxa’s former No. 1 Luis Malagón – and who will wear the captain’s armband.

Chivas claim ‘Clásico Tapatío’

Guadalajara slipped past crosstown rivals Atlas 1-0 thanks to a “golazo” by Eduardo Torres in minute 40.

The Chivas had already clinched their spot in the Copa final so this game was simply for bragging rights. The win was the first for “El Rebaño Sagrado” against the Zorros in six matches (0-3-3) though since it was a preseason game – and one of those losses came in an exhibition match – Atlas can still claim a 2-3-0 streak in Liga MX play.

Elsewhere in Liga MX

Tigres and Santos Laguna battled to a 1-1 draw in another Copa por México contest Tuesday night, but the result was overshadowed by a head injury suffered by Tigres All-Star striker André-Pierre Gignac.

The Frenchman was hit in the back of the head by a kicked ball and a short time later slumped to the ground. As he tried to get up he appeared disoriented and vomited several times. Gignac was taken to the hospital where he stayed overnight.

Gignac, 37, was the third-leading scorer in Liga MX last season (8 goals) and is the all-time leading goalscorer in Tigres history.

Earlier Tuesday, Víctor Guzmán was introduced as the newest member of the Chivas. The two-time Liga MX champion was acquired from Pachuca via a trade involving Jesús Angulo.

Guzmán, 27, started his career with Guadalajara but did not make his Liga MX debut until after he was sent to Pachuca in 2015.

Over in León, the Esmeraldas welcomed Lucas Romero to “La Fiera.” The 28-year-old Argentine defensive midfielder comes to Liga MX by way of Argentina’s Independiente. Romero also spent three years with Brazil’s Cruzeiro.

Other moves

Former Barcelona, LA Galaxy and América midfielder Gio dos Santos will attempt to revive his career in Guatemala.

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Dos Santos has been out of football since being released by América in July 2021. Since no other Liga MX club came calling, Gio will now ply his trade with Guatemala City-based Club Municipal, a 25-time champion in the Liga Nacional de Guatemala.