Malagón, Zendejas give Aguilas leg up in ‘Super Clásico’ semifinal series

Alejandro Zendejas gestures to the crowd after scoring against Guadalajara to help America win 1-0. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Alejandro Zendejas gestures to the crowd after scoring against Guadalajara to help America win 1-0. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
America Chivas 1
America goalie Luis Malagon had plenty to celebrate after pitching a shutout against the Chivas in the Liga MX semifinals. Malagon had 5 big saves on the night. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/ Getty Images) /

America withstands early siege, escapes with win

Luis Malagón made four huge first-half saves and sub Alejandro Zendejas fired home the winner on the hour as America took the first leg of the “Super Clásico” semifinal series.

The Chivas must now travel to Mexico City and win by two goals at Estadio Azteca if they are to return to the Liga MX finals for the first time since 2017.

Guadalajara started out aggressively, flowing forward with numbers and testing the América defense. “El Rebaño Sagrado” created six clear scoring chances in the first half, but Malagón stood tall between the pipes.

Seven minutes in, Alexis Vega was sent into the box behind the Aguilas back line but the former Necaxa goalie got his right mitt on Vega’s shot to deny the El Tri winger.

Less than 10 minutes later, a low Alan Mozo cross found Vega at the edge of the 6-yard box but Malagón – at full stretch – palmed away Vega’s low one-timer.

In minute 28, a Víctor Guzmán header was ticketed for the back of the net but the 26-year-old keeper made a flying save to keep the Chivas off the scoreboard.

Again, at the half-hour mark, Malagón was called upon to rescue the America defense. Guzmán was sent in alone but the América netminder was quick off his line and blocked the shot.

Malagón came over from Necaxa just before the season as America prepared for life without Guillermo Ochoa. The Michoacán native got his first start on Matchday 11, earning a clean sheet in the club’s 2-0 win at Tigres.

América went 4-2-1 down the stretch with Malagón as the starter and are one game away from another Liga MX final.

Zendejas punishes his former team

With the score knotted at 0-0 at halftime, coach Fernando Ortiz called on Alejandro Zendejas, a former Guadalajara player who rarely got a chance to get on the pitch with the Chivas.

Zendejas joined Guadalajara from FC Dallas in 2016, but saw action in just 6 games across six seasons, splitting time with second-division club Zacatecas. In 2020, Zendejas left on a free transfer for Necaxa (where he was Malagón’s teammate) and the Ciudad Juárez native blossomed into a star.

At the 60-minute mark, Diego Valdés sent a through pass down the right flank and Zendejas outraced Luis Orozco to the ball, then cut back inside and let fly with a quick left-footed shot that beat Miguel Jiménez at the near post.

With the lead, the second-seeded Aguilas started playing keepaway more than attacking (they outshot the Chivas on the night 18-17) and managed to see out the win.

The teams face off again on Sunday and as the lower-seeded team, Guadalajara (No. 3 seed) must defeat America on aggregate to advance to the final.

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The other semifinal between Monterrey and Tigres resumes on Saturday with the score tied 1-1. As the higher seed, No. 1 Monterrey can reach the final with a win or a draw while the seventh-seeded Tigres must win to stay alive in these playoffs.