Funes Mori steals the show, but Monterrey's clean sheet the real achievement

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Julio Cesar Aguilar
A stunning bicycle kick stole the show, but Rayados' defense had an accomplishment of its own in snapping Santos' long scoring streak

Rogelio Funes Mori's goal was gorgeous. In the 60th minute of Monterrey's Liguilla match against Santos Laguna, the Argentine forward, only recently back to full fitness, used his chest for his first touch on a cross from Carlos Rodriguez. Then he unleashed an overhead kick to score the only goal in the first leg of the quarterfinal clash.

The series now heads to Torreon with Rayados holding the slimmest of advantages thanks to Funes Mori's goal. It was beautiful, a work of art.

Yet, the most impressive feat in Monterrey on Wednesday night wasn't the 'chilena' but rather the defensive effort Monterrey put in to deny Santos an away goal that could have been crucial in the series.

The clean sheet ended a 22-match streak in which Santos scored at least one goal during league matches. Los Guerreros netted in every game during the league season. But between captain Jose Basanta, Nicolas Sanchez and Stefan Medina, Monterrey kept Julio Furch and the rest of Santos' attackers from finding the back of the net.

The question now may be if Monterrey did enough against the reigning champion.

Back at the Estadio Corona, Santos seems destined to break through at least once, and Funes Mori may have to produce a moment of magic again.

It's not that Santos didn't have chances in the first leg. Jonathan Rodriguez missed an early opportunity in the 13th minute with the goalmouth gaping. In the 83rd minute, Furch slipped behind the defense and had an opportunity that was saved by Marcelo Barovero.

The 12-goal scorer had an even better chance earlier in the match, smashing a header toward Barovero's back post. The goalkeeper was nowhere to be found, but Jesus Gallardo stuck out his left foot to alter the ball's path and keep it from crossing the line.

That's the kind of night it was. Even attackers Rodolfo Pizarro and Funes Mori were back in their own box defending - and not just on set pieces. 

Monterrey needed it. Santos ended the night with a slight possession advantage and put four shots on goal. Basanta looked to have taken a little knock in the first half but pressed on to end the night with four clearances and a pair of interceptions.

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Monterrey manager Diego Alonso has been criticized for falling short during the regular season. It's a reflection of just how seriously he's being judged in La Sultana del Norte. In his debut season at the club, he's missed a number of players because of injuries or suspensions. His team still isn't entirely whole. Wednesday, when it mattered most, his side put together its best showing of the season.

Rayados hardly have 'one foot in the next round' or any other way you want to describe the series as almost won. A single goal from Santos in the second leg could send Monterrey out of the postseason and put Santos through - leaving Funes Mori's goal for the highlight reels and the defensive effort all for nothing.

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