Cruz Azul makes it dramatic, but survives late frantic blitz from Monterrey

After aggregate 2-2 draw, Cementeros advance by virtue of being the higher seed
Exhausted Cruz Azul players embrace after the second-seeded Cementeros survived a frantic final 20 minutes to eliminate Monterrey and advance to the Liga MX finals where they'll face No. 1 seed América.
Exhausted Cruz Azul players embrace after the second-seeded Cementeros survived a frantic final 20 minutes to eliminate Monterrey and advance to the Liga MX finals where they'll face No. 1 seed América. / Jam Media/GettyImages

Cruz Azul barely survived a Monterrey tidal wave over the final 25 minutes of their second-leg semifinal to advance to the Liga MX final for the first time in six seasons.

La Máquina Azul lost 2-1 at home Sunday night but the 2-2 aggregate scoreline favored the higher-seeded Cementeros and they’ll move on to face crosstown rivals América in the two-legged final this week.

This will be the fifth Junior Classic in a Liga MX Final with América holding a 3-1 advantage, including two thrilling victories (not thrilling, if you’re a Cruz Azul fan) last decade.

The first leg will be at Estadio Azul on Thursday night with the Gran Finale set for Estadio Azteca on Sunday.

Cruz Azul withstands maximum pressure

Cruz Azul held the upper hand early in the first half, nearly taking the lead in minute 7 with an Ángel Sepúlveda header.

Seven minutes later, Uriel Antuna slipped a pass through the Monterrey backline to an overlapping Rodrigo Huescas who was denied twice by Esteban Andrada from close range.

Then the Cementeros started getting sloppy in possession, but the Rayados squandered a couple gifts. 

Germán Berterame got behind the Cruz Azul defense in minute 24 but popped his shot over the box.

Antuna and Sepúlveda conspired to shorten Cementeros possessions (Antuna with poor passes and Sepúlveda with lousy first touches) allowing Monterrey to regain its footing.

Stellar defending continually frustrated the Rayados – left fullback Rodolfo Rotundi was particularly effective, shutting down Monterrey moves with hustle plays – and goalie Kevin Mier was patrolling his area with aplomb.

Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz made two changes to open the second half and almost immediately the field tilted in the Rayados’ favor.

Subs “Tecatito” Corona and Rodrigo Aguirre nearly evened the aggregate score just 2 minutes after the restart.

“Tecatito” shook free at the endline before chipping a picture-perfect cross to the back side where Aguirre rose above his marker for a header that Mier tipped over the bar for a corner.

Ten minutes later, another Aguirre header forced another Mier reflex save.

Shortly thereafter, a bad Cruz Azul turnover looked like a promising chance for the Rayados but the Cementeros recovered a started a break in the other direction.

Antuna, sent deep down the right flank, paused his run and dropped off a pass to the onrushing Huescas who whipped a cross behind the defense that a sliding Sepúlveda met at the back post.

Estadio Azul roared its approval as the 2-0 aggregate lead meant Monterrey had to score three times to knock out the second-seeded Cementeros. 

Since Cruz Azul was the second stingiest defense in Liga MX, that was never gonna happen, right? After all, they saw out the win on the road in the first leg despite heavy pressure from Monterrey. Well … not so fast.

Instead of shuffling into the offseason, the Rayados pressed forward … again and again and again.

A Stefan Medina pass from the right flank was deflected and it soared into the Cruz Azul box where Mier hesitated on his line. This allowed Berterame to race into the area and stick out his foot, getting just enough of the ball to redirect it inside the far post.

Moments later, Luis Romo got behind the defense on the right side but his low cross skidded across the 6-yard box without finding a teammate.

In minute 73, Aguirre broke away from a defender and carried forward unmolested and sent a perfectly weighted through pass into the left channel where Berterame raced onto it and buried it inside the near post.

Coach Ortiz sent more attackers onto the pitch while Cruz Azul coach Martín Anselmi frantically sought to park the bus in front of Mier. 

Despite the defensive reinforcements, the swarm continued. There seemed to be eight Cementeros in the box but Monterrey was still finding space.

A goal seemed inevitable as Monterrey buzzed around the box, but there was always a blue jersey in the way. And Mier made several fine stops, cutting off a Jesús Gallardo cross in minute 88 with danger at the back post.


Finally, ref Fernando Guerrero blew his whistle after 6 minutes of stoppage time and a collective sigh of relief was exhaled across the breadth of the stadium.