América escape major upset bid by Real Estelí to advance in Concachampions

Aguilas next face Guadalajara in Round of 16; Tigres win in Liga MX-MLS clash
Nicaraguan minnows Real Estelí gave Liga MX giants América all it could handle in their Concacaf Champions League series. The heavily favored Aguilas escaped with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Nicaraguan minnows Real Estelí gave Liga MX giants América all it could handle in their Concacaf Champions League series. The heavily favored Aguilas escaped with a 3-2 aggregate victory. / Jam Media/GettyImages

Liga MX champs shake off pesky Real Estelí 

América did its part (barely), setting up a Liga MX Super Clásico in the ConcaChampions Round of 16 thanks to its 2-0 victory over Nicaragua’s Real Estelí Wednesday night.

The result at the Estadio Ciudad de los Deportes provided the Aguilas with a 3-2 aggregate win over the plucky Central Americans but the Liga MX giants had to work a lot harder than had been expected.

“Los AzulCremas” will now have to travel to Guadalajara – a 5-2 winner over Canada's Forge FC – on March 5 for the first-leg battle with the return match in Mexico City on March 12.

That will give fans three “Clásico de Clásicos” in 12 days as the bitter rivals are due to square off in Liga MX play on March 16 in a Matchday 12 showdown.

América opened Wednesday’s game with a frantic pace and hurried moves forward, but the ill-advised long balls and forced passes simply resulted in sloppy play.

André Jardine’s men hoped to erase the one-goal deficit from the first leg right off the bat.

The Central Americans coughed up the ball in their own third regularly during the opening 20 minutes, but they were able to avoid trouble primarily because they were parking seven men in and around the box.

In minute 12, Jonathan Rodríguez was all alone to the left of goal, but he sent his shot into row 30.

The Aguilas finally fashioned their first shot on goal in minute 15 but Douglas Forvis was there to make a fine save off the Brian Rodríguez laser ticketed for the left corner.

The hosts finally struck in minute 18, when Julián Quiñones chased down a ball inside the 6-year box before Forvis could gather it in. JQ spun and filtered a pass to Jonathan Rodríguez who was all alone out in front of goal.

“Cabecita” patiently teed up his shot from 15 meters and rippled the top of the net. The 1-0 score would have been enough to send the Aguilas into the next round, but the Liga MX representative knew that one single Real Estelí goal would have force them to score twice more.

The goal forced Real Estelí to open its lines, but América seemed to relax, their intensity dropped and the team appeared to lose focus. 

The Aguilas didn’t get a good sniff at goal the rest of the half despite enjoying 59% of possession. Brian Rodríguez did graze the top of the crossbar with a free kick in minute 34 but that does not count as a shot on goal.

Then, disaster. Or so it seemed.

In minute 43, a foolish and reckless tackle by América defender Sebastián Cáceres earned a red card … until VAR summoned ref Ismail Elfath to take a look at the video and the U.S. official switched his call to a yellow card.

Despite a large advantage in talent, the Aguilas couldn’t finish off their opponent. And the Nicaraguan club refused to concede.

Just seven minutes after the restart, left back “Chicote” Calderón was stripped of possession in his own territory by Iván Ochoa who swooped toward goal with “Chicote” and central defender Igor Lichnovsky in hot pursuit. Instead of cutting the ball back to trailing teammates, the Tampico native attempted a sharp-angled shot that only rippled the side netting.

América’s reaction didn’t take long. A minute later, Brian Rodríguez raced to the touch line and his low cross ricocheted off two Real Estelí players right to Zendejas who deposited the ball in the back of the net from 8 meters out.

Still, with the 2-0 score, the Nicaraguan club was just a goal away from sending the game to overtime. And again it was Ochoa who made Jardine & Co sweat. The Real Estelí midfielder forced a diving save from Luis Malagón in minute 56.

The teams exchanged rushes thereafter, but the Nicaraguan side started running out of gas, but the Liga MX giants could not put the game to bed. 

Zendejas rattled the right post in minute 67 after a steal by Álvaro Fidalgo and he hit the left post when Forvis got a piece of his low shot in minute 84.

With just minutes remaining, Josué Quijano spoiled a golden opportunity to force overtime, when he scuffed a shot after being sent in alone Malagón.

The whistle blew shortly thereafter and América fans breathed a sigh of relief. The Liga MX now has three clubs into the final 16 of the Concacaf Champions League with Toluca and Monterrey poised to join them tonight.

Tigres 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 0

Luis Quiñones, Ozziel Herrera and Juan Pablo Vigón scored second-half goals as Tigres overwhelmed Vancouver to give Liga MX momentary bragging rights over MLS.

After a closely fought first half, “los felinos” found their rhythm and pounced.

In minute 51, Quiñones poked home from 2 meters to finish off a classy team goal. Juan Brunetta waited patiently for Herrera to circle around him and sent him to the tech line with a soft pass. Herrera created space before chipping a short pass to Fernando Gorriarán on the front side and his looping header grazed off the crossbar and dropped to Quiñones and he popped it into the net.

Herrera drove the dagger into Whitecap hearts in minute 85. Sub Diego Lainez lofted a picture-perfect cross from the left wing that cleared three Vancouver defenders and found Herrera racing in at the back post where he nodded home with malice.

Vigón added the third about one minute into stoppage time.

Tigres move into the Round of 16 where they await the winner of the Calvary FC-Orlando City SC series. MLS side Orlando City is favored to defeat the Canadian Premier League team, an outcome that would set up a rematch and yet another Liga MX-MLS clash.

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Tigres edged Orlando City in the CCL Round of 16 last year, slipping past the Lions after a bitterly fought series that ended 1-1. The Liga MX giants advanced on the away goals rule.