Cruz Azul will meet Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League final after claiming a 2-0 victory over Club Tijuana in the decisive second leg at Estadio Azul on Wednesday.
La Máquina needed to win on home soil after losing the first leg 1-0 at Estadio Caliente a week ago. Tijuana midfielder Javier Güemez turned into his own net after just three minutes to draw Cruz Azul level in the tie. Julio Domínguez then tucked home the decisive goal six minutes after the interval to cinch a 2-1 triumph on aggregate complete a glittering final between the top two sides in Liga MX.
The outcome proved just on the night and on the whole after Cruz Azul overcame its narrow deficit. The home side enjoyed the better of the play on the evening against a Tijuana outfit lacking the necessary incisiveness to collect a critical away goal. Tijuana coach César Farías will wonder whether he should have included Hérculez Gómez in his matchday squad and kept the influential Dario Benedetto on the field for the duration of the affair as the Xolos reflect on their last four exit.
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Tijuana watched its first-leg lead disappear after just three minutes. Joao Rojas and Gerardo Flores combined on the right to overload the area and provide Flores with a chance to pull his cross back into the penalty area. Flores obliged with his service, but Güemez diverted the effort over the stranded Cirilo Saucedo to hand the home side the lifeline it craved.
The early goal and the injury-enforced withdrawals of Rojas and Luis Perea took the sting out of the half with both sides keenly aware of the circumstances and poised to react at the slightest infraction. Saucedo lashed out after a Flores challenge inside the goal area to spark a fracas 10 minutes before the interval. Tempers flared again moments before the halftime whistle as the tension inevitably emerged in a match between two sides fighting for a place in the final.
Domínguez grabbed Cruz Azul’s second early in the second half. Rogelio Chávez curled a decent free kick toward the near post to present some danger. Benedetto headed his attempted clearance across the face of goal to present Domínguez with a wonderful opportunity at the back post. Domínguez settled with his first touch and tucked home with his second to double the advantage on the night and snatch control of the tie.
Farias then chucked Jaime Ayoví and Richard Ruiz into the fray and urged his players to contradict their well-established struggles away from home. Ayoví lashed over the bar from distance shortly after the hour, while Fernando Arce presented a threat with his clipped free kick moments later.
By committing numbers forward in search of the necessary away goal, Tijuana opened ample operating room for Cruz Azul through midfield. Christian Giménez’s arrival provided a conduit for La Máquina’s ventures into the attacking half. Giménez stung a free kick at Saucedo to mark his arrival for the final half-hour and underscore the threat posed to the Xolos on the break.
Giménez nearly secured the critical third in the final quarter of an hour on the counter. The veteran schemer cut inside his marker and uncorked his shot toward the far post. The stinging effort forced Saucedo to palm his effort onto the crossbar and watch the effort deflect to safety.
Tijuana continued to press for the equalizer, though it struggled to create clear chances in the final third. Jesús Corona quashed a decent opportunity when he rushed off his line to punch Ruiz’s cross away from the onrushing Fidel Martinez in the final 10 minutes. Edgar Castillo then pulled his cross agonizingly across the face of goal
The last and best opening came two minutes from the end and fell to American international Castillo inside the penalty area. Castillo eluded his marker and skimmed a low effort toward goal. His shot beat Corona, but Domínguez cleared off the line to send Cruz Azul through to the final.
Both teams released the simmering tension with a scuffle after the final whistle. Corona eventually procured a red card to keep him out of the first leg against Toluca. The post-match dismissal ended the night on a sour note for the home side and provided a talking point ahead of the final.