Humberto Suazo leads Monterrey into the championship of the Mexican Primera Apertura where they'll play Santos Laguna. (via wikimedia.org)

Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: Santos Take 3-2 Lead Into Second Leg

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: 3-2 Full Time, Santos Takes Lead To Monterrey

Santos will have an advantage going in to the return leg of the Mexican Liguilla final thanks to an own goal by Duilio Davino caused by a cross from substitute Jose Cardenas. Just before Cardenas was introduced in the 77th minute, it looked like both teams were growing content with a draw. Based on the fact that Santos lost after drawing in the home leg of the Bicentenario, they should probably know better than that, and their introduction of Cardenas indicated that they were going for the jugular. Ruben Omar Romano's substitution proved to be a great one and his team have a lead as a result.

The man Cardenas entered for, right back Jorge Ivan Estrada, was probably the man of the match. He's mine for sure, and he was also named man of the match by the game's broadcaster, Telefutura. I'm surprised they did it right after full time instead of delaying showing their man of the match for four minutes. He scored the opener, assisted on Carlos Darwin Quintero's goal, and did a great job defending all night. Neither of the Monterrey goals came from attacks down his flank and he outplayed veteran Ecuadorian international Walter Ayovi by a significant margin for the duration of the game.

Aldo de Nigris of Monterrey was another man of the match candidate as he set up both of Monterrey's goals. It was a refreshing performance from the center forward after two below par performances against Pumas in the semi-finals. He formed a very effective partnership with Humberto Suazo and they gave their manager reasons to stick with them up top.

Monterrey's defense was a different story, though, and they will need to be patched up before the second leg of the final. Ricardo Osorio's injury, if it keeps him out for the second leg, will be a difficult blow to take. 

Away goals and the seeding tiebreaker do not apply in the final, so Monterrey will simply have to win the return leg by one goal to force a penalty shootout. The return leg takes place on Sunday night at 7 pm ET and can be viewed on Telemundo.

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: Neri Cardozo Equalizes For Los Rayados, 2-2

Unsurprisingly, the final of the Mexican Ligulla has stayed wild with Monterrey equalizing in the 54th minute. Aldo de Nigris created the opportunity, beating his defender and getting into the penalty area. Santos keeper Osvaldo Sanchez did well to parry the ball away, seemingly preventing what would have been a very easy goal scoring opportunity with Humberto Suazo arriving into the box as well. However, Sanchez deflected the ball out towards Neri Cardozo who scored with a great driving finish from 15 yards out. 

The goal could be a big confidence booster for Cardozo who had previously been quiet. Monterrey have depended on him in the midfield all season and can hardly afford to have him uninvolved in games. Monterrey look to be playing with a swagger since the goal and Santos will have to be careful not to concede again. They should probably think about a goal of their own, as well, since a draw will make them slight underdogs for the the return leg this weekend.

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: Halftime Update, 2-1 Santos After Two Quick Goals

After a sloppy five minutes or so, the one and only Chupete, Humberto Suazo has scored a great poacher's finish to tie the score up at 1-1 in the 37th minute. It was exactly the kind of goal one would expect from a man who lists his occupation not as "striker" or "forward," but "goal scorer." Big midfielder Jesus Eduardo Zavala won the ball in the air, knocking the ball towards Suazo's strike partner, Aldo de Nigris. He made a crafty flick towards a shockingly unmarked Suazo. He made no mistake about his finish, quickly powering it low past Osvaldo Sanchez to tie the match. The question has to be asked whether or not Felipe Baloy would have prevented the goal had he been available for today's match.

The interesting thing about the time leading up to the goal is that the sloppy play would appear to benefit Santos and their quick counter-attacking style. After another four minutes of play, it did exactly that, benefiting Santos by way of a go ahead goal. Striker Carlos Darwin Quintero got onto the end of a Jorge Ivan Estrada cross with his head, directing the ball into the back of the net. Rafael Figueroa, in for the suspended Felipe Baloy, played a great ball to Estrada to jump start the attack. Baloy might have prevented Suazo's goal, but he might not have played that ball, so let's call it a push when it comes to the positive and negative impact of Baloy's absence.

Monterrey defender Ricardo Osorio was injured shortly afterwards, forcing Vucetich into a substitution. Despite the fact that halftime was coming up and tactical changes should have been in order, Vucetich opted to make the closest thing he could to a change that would allow him to keep the same tactics, bringing on Sergio Meza. 

At the end of the half, the pace slowed down a bit with Santos knocking around the ball and keeping possession. With Monterrey trailing, it's unlikely that the second half will begin that way, as they will want to push the pace. However, Vucetich's lineup, especially with the introduction of Meza, doesn't really lend itself to this kind of football. Additionally, it takes away a tactical sub.

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna vs. Monterrey: Santos Go 1-0 Up Through Estrada

It took only 23 minutes for Santos Laguna to take the lead at home in the first leg of La Gran Final, and their goal came from an unlikely source. On a well orchestrated counter-attack, striker Cristian Benitez found Jorge Ivan Estrada with a through ball on the right side of the penalty area. Estrada picked up the ball and finished past Jonathan Orozco into the roof of the net for only his sixth goal in five full years with the club, giving Santos a 1-0 lead. It was a fantastic run by Estrada from his right back position and no one on Monterrey accounted for the extra body coming forward into the box. Walter Ayovi appeared to be the man responsible for tracking him and his run, but Ayovi did no such thing.

Benitez has had a very large influence early on in the game, even prior to his assist. Monterrey's central defenders are playing a very deep line out of respect for the abilities of Benitez and his partner Carlos Darwin Quintero, but that deep line has allowed for him to have plenty of time and space on the ball when he drops closer to the midfield. Between the influence of Benitez and the general struggles of the partnership of Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris, both in previous matches and early on in this match, Jose Manuel Vucetich will be considering significant tactical adjustments.

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: Lineups Were Wrong, Telefutura Started Late, We All Die And Pay Taxes

I try to be really thorough for you guys. Before posting up lineups with analysis, I made a point of checking more than one source for lineups. Both Medio Tiempo and ESPN listed the exact same lineups, which I posted here. Both sites were wrong. Jesus Eduardo Zavala is starting instead of Hector Morales, which makes sense. Zavala is a natural defensive midfielder, while Morales would have been out of position playing there. Santos is starting Francisco Torres in place of Juan Rodriguez, which also makes sense. Rodriguez was injured against Club America and I was surprised to see that he was fit enough to be included in the starting lineup. Apparently, he is not fit enough to start, and is not even on the bench for Santos. Additionally, Daniel Ludueña is starting in place of Jose Cardenas, which has made for an exciting start from Santos.

Also, those of you who are regular consumers of the Mexican Primera will be stunned (sarcasm) to learn that Telefutura started showing the game about three minutes after kickoff. This has been their policy as long as the sky has been blue, but I naively believed that they would start on time for "La Gran Final." Thankfully, the second leg of the final will be shown on Telemundo, which starts matches on time in addition to having the delightful Andres Cantor of Geico commercial fame call their matches.

Early on, the match has unsurprisingly featured pretty fluid formations and a quick pace of play. Both teams have shots on target, with Santos having the better of the early opportunities. Jonathan Orozco has been forced into a couple of solid, though fairly comfortable saves. Monterrey's lone shot on target came in the first minute of the match.

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Mexican Liguilla Final, Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey: Pre-Match Primer

The lineups are out for both teams and are free of any kind of significant surprises. Ruben Omar Romano has opted to stick with his regular formation for his Santos side. Monterrey have used a few different formations under Jose Manuel Vucetich, but tonight's setup has been used quite a bit recently. A three central defender setup with Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo struggled a bit against Pumas, but Vucetich has elected to stay the course. Here are your lineups.

Santos Laguna Lineup (4-4-2 Diamond): Sanchez / Olvera, Figueroa, Laserda, Estrada / Rodriguez, Morales, Arce, Cardenas / Quintero, Benitez

Monterrey Lineup (3-5-2/5-3-2): Orozco / Basanta, Davino, Mier / Paredes, Martinez, Morales, Ayovi, Osorio / de Nigris, Suazo

Monterrey's lineup could be argued as either a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 formation, but it might end up being slightly unbalanced, and therefore, neither in practice. Left back/midfielder William Paredes is more likely to bomb forward and take risks than right back Ricardo Osorio, although he is competent going forward himself. Suazo is likely to drift around a bit to find the ball and set up his teammates while de Nigris is more of a traditional center forward. Hector Morales is listed as a defensive midfielder, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him actually play as a defender with Paredes going into the midfield. This may or may not indicate a different formation.

The most notable omission from Santos's lineup is playmaker Daniel Ludueña, but after he was benched for both of the matches against America, this is hardly a surprise. Personally, I would prefer to see him in the lineup instead of Jose Maria Cardenas. While Cardenas is a very good player, Ludueña is a special, though inconsistent, talent that can break a game wide open with his creative passing. He seems to have some great chemistry with Cristian Benitez, so his omission in three consecutive games is slightly puzzling to me. Felipe Baloy, arguably the best central defender in Mexico, is out for this match on suspension so Rafael Figeroa has taken his place. Because of this, there will be a lot of pressure on Juan Rodriguez, whose fitness coming into this match is questionable, to protect the Santos back line. One leading site lists Santos's lineup as a 5-3-2 with Carlos Morales at right back and Jorge Ivan Estrada playing as one of three central defenders, but I vehemently disagree based on the way Santos have played throughout the year.

The match kicks off at 9 pm ET on Telefutura and we'll have live coverage throughout.

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Mexican Liguilla Final: Santos Laguna Vs. Monterrey

For once in Mexico, pre-season predictions have come true. Two of the favorites, if not the two favorites, have played their way through the Liguilla to meet in the final. Santos Laguna, runners-up in the most recent tournament, the 2010 Bicentenario, and Monterrey, winners of the 2009 Apertura, meet in a two-legged home and away tie to decide the champion of the Mexican Primera Apertura 2010, starting tonight at Estadio Corona on Torreon.

When the two sides met at Estadio Corona in October, they played an extremely entertaining match, full of great scoring chances and some better saves from the goalkeepers. Monterrey won the match 2-1 despite a Cristian Benitez goal and the fact that they were outplayed for the majority of the game, thanks to some impeccable finishes by Humberto Suazo and Osvaldo Martinez, as well as some out-of-this-world goalkeeping by Jonathan Orozco. It looked like a possible preview of the final back then, and it has become exactly that, thanks to an unsurprising choke by the recent Buffalo Bills of the Mexican Primera, Cruz Azul.

Monterrey and Santos always looked like the better sides in their semi-final ties, though they made progress to the final hard on themselves. Monterrey didn't secure certain safe passage to the final until the 88th minute of the second leg of their tie against Pumas when Suazo finally scored. Neri Cardozo added a second goal and Monterrey advanced on a 2-0 aggregate win. Santos played some entertaining football against America, but let their opponent get back into the game over and over again as the second leg ended 3-3, putting Santos through 5-4 on aggregate. 

In their tie against Monterrey, Pumas spent most of their time in a 3-4-3/3-2-5 hybrid formation, depending on how ambitious the wing backs were feeling and who you're asking. It worked well to stifle Monterrey's attack, especially in the first leg when the visitors were completely ineffective. It will be interesting to see if Santos manager Ruben Omar Romano takes any serious lessons from Pumas' success or if he sticks to his tried-and-true attacking 4-4-2 diamond setup.

Both teams will have serious squad selection decisions, with Santos' focusing mostly on two players. Despite looking dangerous down the stretch in the regular season and against Jaguares, Daniel Ludueña did not start either leg of the tie against America, with Jose Cardenas being preferred. The other starting midfield places look to be set in stone with Juan Rodriguez, Fernando Arce and Carlos Morales. Monterrey's issues are slightly different, as they possess a little bit more depth, but arguably less capability for instant magic. Recently, Victor Manuel Vucetich has opted for two strikers up front, Suazo and Aldo de Nigris. They were largely ineffective as a pair in the last two matches, so a change in formation and/or the introduction of Sergio Santana could be in the works.

The first leg starts tonight, Thursday, at 9 pm ET on Telefutura. Right before the match starts, we'll have lineups and analysis of what the team selections might mean for the makeup of the game.

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