Monterrey stumbled at home – in a “Clásico Regiomontano,” no less – and, for the fourth consecutive season, the top seed will not hoist the Liga MX trophy.
Sebastián Córdova scored for the 5th playoff game in a row, leading the seventh-seeded Tigres to their first Liga MX final in four years on the backs of Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Rayados.
Favored Monterrey turned in a dud of a game at a rain-soaked Estadio BBVA Bancomer, KO’d by their crosstown rivals via a 2-1 aggregate score.
Coach Roberto Siboldi – the Tigres’ third manager this season – made all the right moves. His tactics were effective throughout, then were enhanced by a triple substitution in the second half. Siboldi most certainly secured his job for next season.
Complacent Monterrey pays for lack of sharpness
The Rayados sat atop the Liga MX table the final 12 weeks of the season, running away with the top seed. The Northern Giants were odds-on favorites to win it all.
But since a Matchday 14 loss at América that snapped the club’s 12-game unbeaten streak, Monterrey seemed to have lost its mojo. That was evident Saturday night at “El Gigante de Acero.”
Tigres went on the attack from the opening whistle, Monterrey content to sit back and absorb the pressure. But when the Rayados needed to move forward, they had few clever ideas.
The visiting “felinos” enjoyed 61% possession on the night and moved the ball efficiently though rarely getting great looks at goal. Tigres produced just 6 shots, only 2 on target.
Indecision, holding the ball too long and sloppy passing (71% completion rate for the game) conspired to foil Monterrey’s offensive movement. The Rayados managed just a single shot on goal and that was a slow bouncer directly at Nahuel Guzmán in minute 66.
VAR erases Moreno’s tap-in
Monterrey thought it had taken the lead off a minute-75 corner kick, but a lengthy VAR review correctly annulled the goal for offside.
Nahuel Guzmán, the eccentric Tigres keeper, whiffed on a punch-out effort and crashed into a scrum of players. The ball pin-balled inside the 6-yard box until Luis Romo flicked it through the last line of defense. Rayados skipper Héctor Moreno was first to react and he poked the ball into the net.
Unfortunately, as Guzmán’s histrionics left him sprawled about 8 yards out from his posts, there were not two defenders between Moreno and the ball when Romo kicked it. Offside was whistled, and properly so.
Moments later, Tigres sub Luis Quiñones carried just to the right of the box, then quickly spun away from goal onto his left foot. Two Monterrey defenders failed to close out on LQ, so he casually lofted a perfect cross onto the forehead of Córdova, and the playoff stud banged it home.
That turned out to be all the visitors needed, although it only held up because Javier Aquino stepped into the breach.
A last-gasp Rayados thrust down the right side resulted in a low cross that was tipped, the ball settling just above the penalty spot. Monterrey sub Jordi Cortizo raced forward – the soggy turf making each stride a slog – and got all of it with his favored left foot. Aquino reacted just as quickly, throwing himself into the path of the shot and deflecting the goal-bound blast over the bar for a corner kick.
Siboldi and his Tigres will now sit back and watch Sunday night’s “Super Clásico” to find out who they’ll face in the final.
Third-seeded América won the first leg 1-0 at Guadalajara, so the fourth-seeded Chivas must win at Estadio Azteca by two goals to set up a rematch of the Apertura 2017 final which “El Rebaño Sagrado” won. If the Aguilas advance, we’ll get a reprise of the Apertura 2016 (won by Tigres) and Apertura 2014 (América) finals.