Club León advanced to face Pachuca in the Liga MX Liguilla final with a 1-0 victory at Toluca on Sunday afternoon.
Carlos Peña ensured León’s title defense will continue to the last stage with a sublime goal six minutes after the interval to give the holders a 2-0 triumph on aggregate. Peña’s delicate clip proved no more than León deserved on the day after an impressive display at Estadio Nemesio Diez.
León’s authoritative work in the second leg ensured a chance to become the first Mexican side to retain the championship since Pumas UNAM won the Clausura and the Apertura under Hugo Sanchez back in 2004.
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On this evidence, León is more than capable of accomplishing the feat against a Pachuca side exposed at the back by Santos Laguna on Saturday night. Toluca also fancied its chances in the final, but this poor second leg display left José Cardozo to rue the Red Devils’ inability to transform a promising regular season into any tangible form of hardware.
It all could have unfolded so differently for Toluca if a chance inside the first five minutes. A low square pass through the goal area only needed a touch to draw the home side level on aggregate, but the inviting feed trickled through without it. The opening proved the best opportunity for Toluca on a day when León grasped control of the initiative for most of the proceedings.
León piled the pressure on Alfredo Talavera in the early stages in a bid to snatch the critical away goal. Rafa Márquez skimmed a low free kick wide of the near post after 19 minutes, while Mauro Boselli spurned an open header five minutes later by turning it wide of the frame.
Boselli’s miss loomed large as Talavera exerted his considerable influence on the affair. Talavera – looking to impress Miguel Herrera as the Mexico manager watched from the crowd – produced a routine save from a Peña effort shortly after the half-hour and then repelled Boselli at the near post shortly before the interval.
Toluca needed to improve after the break, but León did not give the home side any time to settle at the start of the second stanza. The relentless pursuit of an away goal finally yielded dividends with a piece of play sure to bolster Herrera ahead of the start of Mexico’s World Cup training camp this week.
Peña capped a fine overall display with a piece of delicate skill prompted by the influential Luis Montes. León strung together a couple of passes before Montes looped a pass out to the open Peña on the left side of the penalty area. Peña responded to the tidy clip by depositing his subsequent effort inside the far post past the stranded Talavera.
One goal from León meant Toluca needed to score three times to seal a place in the final. The home side never really threatened to meet that standard as the second half unfolded. Raul Nava and Isaac Brizuela mustered a modest flurry. Paulo Da Silva attempted to head his side back into the fray. But those efforts hardly generated the sort of momentum required to a rattle an organized León defense.
There were no surprises in the late stages as Toluca fans streamed toward the exits and León supporters started to celebrate. The final whistle ensured a second appearance in the final in as many attempts. Based on the performances this weekend, León enters the decisive, two-legged tie as favorites to retain its title, too.