Two goals by Jesus Zavala and Angel Reyna gave Monterrey a 2-1 win Wednesday over Club Tijuana in their opening match of the 2012 Clausura Liguilla. The visitors were certainly favored heading into the quarterfinal tie, but Tijuana, in the primera playoffs for the first time in their history, entered the match with considerable optimism. Unfortunately for them, Monterrey is a well-oiled machine that doesn't even need to play its best football to win.
In fact, through much of the first half of the match, it seemed Tijuana was pushing Monterrey, and in particular, Fernando Arce's free kick service was giving Monterrey's defense problems. But the breakthrough came in the 31st minute, when Zavala scored on a very difficult header off a corner kick. The young Mexican international was a couple yards outside the near post, and had to contort his body to get on the ball and head it towards goal. From there, Monterrey seemed to put their mark on the match and neutralize the Xolos' chances, and Reyna's goal, in the 50th minute, was really a killer for the host's chances. Reyna took a perfectly weighted shot from just outside the box to the top corner of the far post, and his shot eluded Tijuana goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo. For the next half hour, Saucedo really became the key player of the match, as he had to make several key saves to keep the scoreline respectable.
And then a funny thing happened near the end of the match. Although Tijuana were down to 10 men after Richard Ruiz received a red card in the 79th minute, the Xolos didn't give up. Second-half substitute Raul Enriquez cut the deficit for Tijuana with a sharp shot off a free kick in the 87th minute. Although it was too late for Tijuana to tie up the match, the goal immediately picked up the spirits of the Xolos fans, and Tijuana had several important chances. Monterrey almost got a third goal in the last couple minutes, as they got away on the counterattack, but the scoreline stayed 2-1. Monterrey are in control for the return leg Saturday, and for Tijuana to advance, they'll have to win by at least two goals. They aren't out of it, but Monterrey looks like they are a clear favorite for this edition of the liguilla.