With plenty of variety to choose from among the semifinal field, the Apertura 2012 final four is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining in recent history.
This year’s edition of the Mexican playoffs has yielded a little bit of everything - newcomers to the party, upstart clubs, tradition and titles - all mixed into a four day window set to kick off on Thursday, and sure to provide an interesting final matchup.
In one compelling match, Club Tijuana and Club Leon, the two most recent teams to ascend to the Liga MX, will face off in what is in every way an extraordinary fixture.
After some reasonable doubt, it’s time to recognize than both these newcomers are for real. A sterling regular season can be easily forgotten with a loss in first round of the Liguilla, but neither Tijuana nor Leon fell victim to any newcomer jitters in the quarterfinals.
Leon came from behind to beat a good Cruz Azul team going away, proving that the offensive thrust and diversity the club has displayed since rejoining Mexico’s top flight prior to this season was no fluke. Scoring at this rate, Leon will continue to be a threat as long as it lasts in these playoffs.
That won’t be too much longer, though, if Club Tijuana has anything to say about it. The Xolos, impressively, are making their second Liguilla appearance in three tries since winning promotion to the top flight after just four and a half years in Mexico’s lower divisions.
But Baja California’s team hasn’t shown its green side this time around, after some useful seasoning in a close aggregate loss to eventual finalists Monterrey in the quarterfinal of the Clausura 2012. This time around - just as impressively as Leon - the Xolos took out a veteran Monterrey side in the quarterfinals, winning on the road and then holding off the Rayados in the return match before a packed house in Tijuana.
Club Tijuana is now on the verge of staking its claim to the title of one of the top teams in Liga MX - a remarkable feat after only 15 months in the league.
The success of the newcomers to Liguilla play is good all around for the Mexican game, as postseason enthusiasm comes to areas that have seldom enjoyed such important matches.
But this postseason is all the more interesting because it includes a couple Mexican giants as well.
Toluca and America are both storied franchises, even if the Red Devils have enjoyed significantly more success than the Eagles under the short tournament format.
Toluca is looking for its eighth title since 1998. America has managed only two in the last decade - in 2002 and 2005. So plenty is riding on this tournament for Miguel Herrera’s side, anxious to rid itself once and for all of the reputation of also-ran that has begun to stick after years of title drought. A semifinal appearance alone will not be considered a success.
Toluca, for its part, could win an impressive eighth title in a 15 year span, and reemerge as a power among Mexico’s biggest clubs, after a couple years dominated by the northern clubs in which the Red Devils failed to even make the Liguilla.
No matter the results of this week’s semifinals, then, the Apertura 2012 has ushered in some refreshing change in Mexican soccer. A few days from now, we’ll know exactly what that change looks like, as the power center of Mexican soccer potentially shifts for the first time in years.
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