Raúl Jiménez scored a stunning hat trick – including an audacious back heel for his third and the eventual winner – to lift América to victory at Estadio Azteca.
America opened the scoring through Osvaldo Martínez, but Santos seized control after Rodolfo Salinas equalized before the half hour. Darwin Quintero grabbed the second shortly after the break before Ribair Rodríguez punished America’s poor set piece marking on the third.
Jiménez then pounced for the next three goals – two from right wing crosses to his head, the third with that clever poke inside the far post – to turn the night before Rubens Sambueza concluded the match with his near-post drive moments before the final whistle.
The outcome gives América a good chance to progress to the last four in the second leg at Estadio Corona on Saturday, but the pervasive defensive issues exposed on both sides leaves plenty to settle in the return leg. Maza Rodríguez’s late dismissal further complicates matters for Las Aguilas as they plan for the second leg.
América started brightly against a Santos side more willing than expected to camp inside its own half. A couple of early forays from the home side revealed the potential danger in that deportment before Martínez actually punished Santos for its reticence inside the opening quarter of an hour.
The opener came from a low service from the right from Paul Aguilar. Luis Gabriel Rey gathered the service after Santos failed to cope with it and struck his effort toward the far post. Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez stopped the initial attempt, but he could do nothing when Martinez swept home the rebound to hand America the lead after just 12 minutes.
Santos improved after conceding and reaped the rewards through the equalizer before the half-hour. Alonso Escoboza delivered a tempting free kick from the middle third. América failed to track any of the runners behind its defensive line and permitted Salinas to nod home simply to restore parity.
Quintero then had a goal ruled out for a suspect handling decision on Peralta as Santos exerted control over the affair. Escoboza drove high over the bar in the waning moments to ensure the two sides went into the interval on level terms.
Santos created the second just three minutes after play resumed. Escoboza cut behind Maza Rodriguez to latch onto a direct ball behind the América line. The fleet winger squared across for Quintero to slot into the empty net to give the visitors a tangible advantage.
Ribair once again exposed América’s failings on set pieces to increase the lead. Juan Pablo Rodríguez curled his cross behind the line and watched as America stormed out without tracking runners. Ribair arched his neck and looped his header over the stranded Moises Munoz to exacerbate the home side’s concerns after 54 minutes.
Jiménez and América responded emphatically to erase the deficit and set the stage for a rasping finish. América exploited its advantage on the right to create the room on the service for both headers. Jimenez cut across his marker just before the hour for his first and drifted behind him in the final 10 minutes to grab his second and drag Las Aguilas level on aggregate.
And then staggeringly, América continued its onslaught and assembled a tangible lead to take to Estadio Corona on Saturday. Jimenez poked home a stunning back heel to complete his hat trick three minutes from time. Rubens Sambueza capped the night with a near-post drive to secure a first home win in seven attempts and send the Azteca into rapture at the final whistle.
Cruz Azul striker Mariano Pavone nodded home after four minutes to help La Máquina claim a 1-1 draw at Club León.
(8) Club León 1 – (1) Cruz Azul 1
Cruz Azul arranged a decisive second leg in Mexico City by snatching a deserved draw at the Nou Camp.
The important passages on the night all took place inside the opening half-hour. Mariano Pavone opened the scoring for La Máquina after four minutes. León responded with a well-worked team goal rounded off by José Maria Cardenas shortly thereafter.
Both teams created plenty of chances as the match unfolded with León dominating in possession and Cruz Azul thriving when it pushed forward on the counterattack. The final result leaves the tie finely poised ahead of the second leg at Estadio Azul on Saturday, but Cruz Azul will feel confident of advancing given this result and its success on home soil.
Pavone provided the visitors with a perfect start with a wonderfully taken header from a set piece. Rogelio Chávez stood over the set piece in the middle third and struck his curling effort toward the right side of the penalty area. Pavone created modest separation from Nacho González and turned his effort inside the near post to open the scoring.
León responded with a typically neat sequence in the attacking third to carve open the Cruz Azul defense and snatch the equalizer in the 21st minute. Several passes placed Mauro Boselli in the right position to drop a neat pass for Cardenas at the top of the penalty area. Cardenas dutifully lashed home to draw his side level.
The stretched nature of the match prompted several chances without producing the second goal. León goalkeeper William Yarbrough parried away Marco Fabián’s stinging second-half drive to frustrate the visitors, while Jesús Corona produced a fine save on Boselli five minutes from time to protect the result for the visitors.