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Perplexing InterLiga formula has its upside
by Ridge Mahoney, January 9th, 2008 6:45AM
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[INTERLIGA]Winner of its first two group games, San Luis squandered a chance to capture the Group B title outright when it lost, 1-0, to Monterrey Tuesday at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. But it won the group anyway, when Cruz Azul broke a second-place tie with UNAM by beating Pumas, 1-0, in the nightcap.

Both goals came early and on balls played right through or over the central defenders. Humberto Suazo tapped a bouncing ball over the keeper's head in the 12th minute for Monterrey, and Nicolas Vigneri slotted into an empty net after rounding the goalie in the 14th minute to give Cruz Azul its second straight Interliga victory after playing seven matches without a win.

San Luis had already clinched a spot in the finals by accumulating six points but by losing could have helped its prospects of advancing to the Copa Libertadores.

Under a weird formula used to determine the two InterLiga qualifiers, the twin finals to be played Saturday at HDC are designated 'Mexico 2' and 'Mexico 3.' (One of the three slots for Mexican teams is allotted to Guadalajara, the 2006 Apertura winner, as 'Mexico 1.')

One InterLiga final winner is designated as 'Mexico 2' and goes straight into the Copa Libertadores group phase, while the other, as 'Mexico 3,' faces a two-game playoff against Bolivian club La Paz FC to qualify for the tournament proper. Yes, that's the same La Paz that lies more than two miles high in the Andean sky.

Ah, but there's a catch: The InterLiga Group A winner takes on the Group B runner-up, and the winner of that game is 'Mexico 2' in the Libertadores. The Group B winner can do no better than beat the Group A runner-up and be designated as 'Mexico 3.'

San Luis and Cruz Azul finished tied with six points, but with a superior goal difference, San Luis captured the Group B title. It will play the Group A runner-up at HDC in one of Saturday's finals with Cruz Azul facing the Group A champion.

Club America (2-0-0, 6 points) leads the group and plays second-place Atlas (1-0-1, 4 points) Wednesday at 11:15 p.m. ET following a match between Toluca (0-1-1, 1 point) and eliminated Morelia (0-2-0, 0 points) at 9 p.m. Both matches will be televised live on Fox Sports en Espanol.

Toluca (goal difference minus-1) can advance only by if Atlas loses and it beats Morelia to surpass Atlas (plus 2) on goal difference.
'Mexico 2' is bound for Group 5 with Union San Martin (Peru), Universidad Catolica (Chile) and River Plate (Argentina).

A tough task, yet far more preferable than an arduous trip to the Andes with no assurance of advancement. Yet maybe battling through the toughest course is the best preparation for a rugged Copa Libertadores campaign.

Last year, Necaxa won Interliga Group A and beat Chiapas, 1-0, to qualify for the Libertadores. It won its group to reach the round of 16, in which it lost to Uruguayan legend Nacional, 4-2.

In the 'minor' InterLiga final, Club America topped UNL on penalties, 4-2, knocked off Peruvian club Sporting Cristal, 6-2, in a two-leg playoff, advanced out of group play by finishing second, and eventually reached the quarterfinals, where it lost, 2-1, on aggregate to Santos of Brazil.

Toluca had qualified directly for the 2007 Copa Libertadores as Apertura 2005 champion and also won its first-round group, yet it lost badly to Colombian club Cucuta Deportivo, 5-3 on aggregate, in the round of 16.

So the team that had most difficult path to the Copa Libertadores, Club America, eventually advanced further than the team that qualified directly as a league champion, Toluca, and the Interliga winner, Necaxa.

Saturday's finals and the subsequent showings by Mexican teams in the 2008 Copa Libertadores will likely supply yet another entry to the intriguing history of the InterLiga.

 



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