Funes Mori's super-strike sets up gigantic second-leg in Liga MX final
Monterrey will take a 2-1 lead over Club America into the second leg of the Liga MX 2019 Apertura final on Sunday in Estadio Azteca, after a memorable first leg on Thursday in Estadio BBVA. Here are three takeaways from the match:
1. A goal worthy of winning any game
This was a game that started slowly, with fouls and steel overshadowing flair and scoring opportunities. The majority of the first half seemed to indicate that there would be nothing of lasting note, leaving the real entertainment for Sunday's second leg.
But instead, the game gradually crescendoed and then peaked in second half injury time with a moment of sheer jaw-dropping magic from Monterrey's Rogelio Funes Mori with the score at 1-1.
Facing away from goal, Funes Mori chested a looped headed pass upwards, contorted his body as the ball started to drop, leant back and produced an over-head kick-stroke-back-flip into the corner of Club America goalkeeper
It was also a goal that swung the two-legged tie in Monterrey's favor after the home side had looked set to fail to convert the fact it played for 37 minutes with a player extra -- America's Sebastian Cordova was sent off in the 53rd minute.
Monterrey had been the better team and pushed for the winner, but lacked poise and failed to convert possession into real chances, after each team had netted just before half-time, first through a Carlos Rodriguez own goal to hand America the lead and then with Stefan Medina leveling for Monterrey.
And when it looked as though Monterrey had the breakthrough, Ochoa produced a save from Vincent Janssen in the 91st minute that would've been the main headline and photo in Friday's Mexican sports pages. Ochoa's spring to his right was reminiscent of that save he produced in the 2014 World Cup from Brazil's Neymar, which earned him the "Saint Memo" nickname.
But for all America's fight and plucky determination in front of over 50,000 Monterrey fans, Funes Mori had the last laugh with the goal of the 2019 Apertura season.
2. Not a great night for Mexican youngsters
Monterrey's Rodriguez and Club America's Cordova are two of Mexico's younger generation of players that have broken out in Liga MX in a major way in 2019 and earned their first Mexico caps under Gerardo "Tata" Martino.
But the first leg of the final was one to forget for both.
Midfielder Rodriguez rightly earned plaudits for his mature and confident display against Liverpool in the Club World Cup last week, but didn't look anywhere near as sharp against Club America, losing the midfield battle to Guido Rodriguez and Richard Sanchez.
And then just before half-time he sliced the ball into his own net to hand America the lead. In truth, Rodriguez had done well to get back and be in a position to clear Federico Vinas' shot, but he lost balance, couldn't get his feet positioned correctly and ended up bundling the ball over the line.
As for Cordova, his red card severely damaged America's chances of victory. It wasn't an intentionally dirty challenge on Leonel Vangioni, but it was late and high and once the referee had consulted VAR, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Rodriguez will have the chance to make amends on Sunday, while Cordova is set to be suspended.
3. America looking for yet another comeback in second leg
Monterrey has the advantage in a series that didn't have a runaway favorite, but America has been here before. In fact, over the quarterfinal, semi and now final first legs, this was Las Aguilas' best result. America lost 2-1 at home to Tigres in the quarterfinal first leg, before securing a famous 4-2 win inside Estadio Universitario. And against Morelia, a 2-0 loss away in the first game meant America was the underdog to make the final. But Club America have shown tremendous resolve so far and won't be overawed by the task ahead.
America coach Miguel Herrera came into this playoff boisterously announcing that his team would be the first to finish sixth in the regular season table and win the title. "Piojo" is almost better wired going into games behind with license to throw caution to the wind than ahead and looking to protect a lead.
"It's a minimal advantage and we'll turn it around in Mexico City," said Herrera defiantly after the game.
It's also true that Monterrey's trip to Qatar to play the Club World Cup, the hours traveling and time zone changes will have taken their toll; the altitude of Mexico City will provide an additional challenge, especially with over 70,000 America fans willing the club to its 14th title.
Mohamed won the 2014 Apertura title with Club America, but left the club straight after, not even bothering to celebrate with the players and owners. He also dedicated the win to the city of Monterrey, with his America team having overcome Rayados' great rivals Tigres in the final. Mohamed might not say it publicly, but it's hard to believe that defeating America in Estadio Azteca wouldn't mean a lot to him.
But if the first leg proved anything, it is that there's little between these two sides and that moments of genius like Funes Mori's golazo, or costly errors like those of Rodriguez or Cordova, could well decide the series.