Club León defends Liga MX title with extra time victory at Pachuca
Club León retained the Mexican title with a 2-0 victory after extra time at Pachuca in the second leg of the Liga MX Liguilla final on Sunday night.
Mauro Boselli forced the match into the additional period and pulled León level on aggregate with his header after 66 minutes. Nacho González turned home Luis Montes’ corner kick in the 112th minute to secure the goal required to claim a 4-3 triumph on aggregate and join Pumas UNAM as the only sides to retain the title since the league moved to a split-season model in 1996.
It proved no less than La Fiera deserved after a dogged and resolute display to overturn the 3-2 defeat from the first leg at Nou Camp on Thursday. Gustavo Matosas’ side survived two enforced substitutions inside the first 10 minutes, waded through a bright Pachuca spell after the break and underscored their championship credentials with their overall performance on the night.
Matosas and his players must have wondered whether a second consecutive title beckoned after suffering a double injury blow so early in the encounter. Jonny Magallón forced a defensive reshuffle when he limped off after six minutes, while Franco Arizala created a vacancy up front after injuring his hamstring two minutes later. Eisner Loboa and José Maria Cardenas replaced the injured players, but it took a while for the visitors to settle into a match with more cohesion than the expansive first leg.
Pachuca remained cautious inside its own half to protect its narrow advantage, but it obtained more of the ball and posed more questions than it did in the first half at Nou Camp on Thursday. Enner Valencia blazed high and wide inside the first 20 minutes before Hiram Lozano and Dieter Villalpando saw their threats snuffed out shortly thereafter.
Elias Hernández – inserted into the León lineup add more attacking thrust – forced Pérez into a save as León started to ask more questions of the home side. Carlos Peña soon lashed over the bar from a Boselli layoff to hint at further improvement from the visitors. Pérez then parried away another Boselli effort just after the half-hour to preserve the advantage.
The home side finished the half on top as Villalpando curled his free kick over the bar and started the second half as the better side, too. Lozano stooped to head wide of the post before Valencia forced William Yarbrough into another save as the home side search for some breathing room.
Yarbrough’s continued defiance proved critical moments later as Boselli drew the champions level. Montes played Cardenas through on the left into a crossing position. Cardenas hit the byline and served a curling cross toward the back stick. Boselli nodded down firmly and watched the pace of the header carry it through Perez’s attempted save and into the side of the net.
The goal restored parity in the tie and urged León forward in search of the winner. Montes forced Pérez to parry away at his near post inside the final 10 minutes. Pachuca subsequently hacked clear off the line from the resulting corner kick as the champions attempted to translate their superiority into the decisive goal.
Both teams attempted to claim victory in the waning moments to avoid extra time, but the collective failure to produce a winner ensured the tie ended all square on aggregate for the first time since the 2013 Clausura.
Valencia displayed his intent as the additional 30 minutes started by firing wide of the near post, but both teams eventually showed the toll of playing a second match in four days.
The evident fatigue in both camps pointed toward penalties, but León scored the decisive goal from a set piece eight minutes from the end. Montes delivered an enticing ball to the near post. Gonzalez craned his neck, held off his marker and turned his header past the stranded Pérez.
Pachuca piled on the pressure in the waning minutes in a bid to restore parity and send the match to penalties, but the seven-time champions held out to defend their title and join Pumas as the only sides to protect their perch during the split-season era.