Weary Pachuca advances to quarterfinals after surviving rugged test from Necaxa

Tuzos dominated possession but could not find the net until final minutes of match
Pachuca midfielder Nelson Deossa (center) earned a penalty kick after being tripped up by Necaxa defender Alexis Peña. Salomón Rondón connected from the spot to give the Tuzos a 2-0 lead.
Pachuca midfielder Nelson Deossa (center) earned a penalty kick after being tripped up by Necaxa defender Alexis Peña. Salomón Rondón connected from the spot to give the Tuzos a 2-0 lead. / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

Pachuca survived a 90-minute war with underdog Necaxa, winning 2-1 to advance to the Liga MX quarterfinals as the No. 8 seed.

Their reward? A date with top-seeded América, a team that is eager to punish the Tuzos for knocking them out of the Concacaf Champions Cup last month.

Though coach Guillermo Almada is surely pleased that his Tuzos endured the Play-In Tournament gauntlet, playing four games in nine days will have taken its toll.

To make matters worse, winger Oussama Idrissi lost his composure and earned a red card for taunting after he was subbed out in minute 86, meaning Pachuca will without a key starter for the first leg against the Aguilas.

Persistent Pachuca finally breaks through

The Tuzos dominated from the start, enjoying 80% possession during the first half-hour but unable to find a hole in the Necaxa defense. 

The visitors’ strategy of parking the bus and frustrating the favored Tuzos worked well for most of the game. When the Rayos finally decided to look for offense – springing into counter-attacks after the hour mark, it left them vulnerable at the back. And with the clock winding down, Pachuca got what it needed.

Sub Alan Bautista scored in minute 79 and Salomón Rondón converted a penalty 4 minutes later, before allowing a late consolation goal to the visiting Rayos.

Pachuca, Necaxa, Liga MX, Play-In, Clausura 2024, Tuzos
Alan Bautista (#220) watches his shot soar past Necaxa goalie Ezequiel Unsain. The goal helped Pachuca advance to the quarterfinals of the Liga MX playoffs. / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

Bautista’s goal came after a lengthy possession in which right back Luis Rodríguez collected a weak clearance, then swung the ball left to Erick Chávez. “El Chiquito” sent it wider to Idrissi who immediately swept it into the box for an overlapping Bryan González as Necaxa lost its shape rushing to cover the left side of the Pachuca attack.

González finessed a low cross post two defenders to Bautista who beat another defender to the near post before thumping the ball into the roof of the net from close range.

The Tuzos were able to see out the rest of the match, but they might rue Idrissi’s lack of discipline as he and González have proven to be dangerous down the left flank.

No doubt Almada will have plenty to say to his team with regard to their lack of finishing polish. Despite 70% possession on the game, the Tuzos were careless in their offensive third, just as they were in Thursday's first Play-In match against UNAM.

Almada knows this will not do against top-seeded América, the best defense in Liga MX, especially as the Aguilas have one of the most potent counter-attacks in the league.

The Pachuca-América series begins Wednesday in Estadio Hidalgo with the return match set for Saturday at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

The other three quarterfinals series have also been set. No. 2 Cruz Azul faces No. 7 UNAM in an all-Mexico City affair beginning Thursday at UNAM with the second leg scheduled for Sunday at the Estadio Azul.

No. 3 Toluca travels to No. 6 Guadalajara on Wednesday with the Chivas paying a visit to "La Bombonera" on Saturday.


The other quarterfinal offers Liga MX fans a "Clásico Regiomontano" as No. 5 Monterrey hosts crosstown rivals Tigres on Thursday then visits "El Volcán" on Sunday.