Club Tijuana came into the Mexican Primera Division's spring championship aiming for survival. They claimed more than that Sunday, nailing down their first postseason berth in the country's top league.
The Xolos, who would have qualified had Pachuca or Jaguares failed to win their games Saturday, needed at least a draw Sunday afternoon against visiting Pumas UNAM -- and pulled out a 1-1 tie, going ahead on Duvier Riascos' goal 12 minutes into the second half and holding on after Javier Cortes equalized in the 89th minute.
Tijuana (7-3-7) finished seventh among 18 clubs and will face second-seeded Monterrey (9-3-5) in the quarterfinals, opening at home Wednesday and playing away Saturday.
Tijuana was promoted from the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last year and finished 15th in the fall Apertura. One team is relegated every year, and the Xoloitzcuintles were at the bottom of the “percentages table” -- points per game over three years -- heading into the Clausura. They lost just once in their first 10 games to reach safe ground, and finished 3-1-2 to snare their berth.
Santos Laguna (11-3-3), runner-up to UANL Tigres in the Apertura and three times in the last four championships, is the top seed and will open against Jaguares de Chiapas. No. 1 isn't the most advantageous position: Regular-season champions have lost in their playoff openers the last four seasons, in seven of the last nine championships and 13 of the last 20.
The best bets, if history holds: Monterrey (second seeds have won six of the past 20 titles) or No. 3 America (third seeds have won eight times).
A quick rundown of the Clausura campaign:
Santos closed with seven wins in its last eight games to hold off Monterrey (9-3-5), America (9-3-5), fourth-seeded Morelia (9-4-4) and fifth-seeded Tigres (9-4-4) for the top spot, clinching as Oribe Peralta scored his eighth and ninth goals in a 3-1 victory at Atlas. L.A.-born former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez netted five goals in just 417 minutes, plus another six to send the Torreon-based club to the CONCACAF Champions League final, which was won by Monterrey.
The biggest turnaround came from mighty America, which finished 17th in the Apertura. The Aguilas' Christian Benitez shared the scoring title with Toluca's Ivan Alonso, with 14, after netting a pair in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Mexico City rival Cruz Azul.
The top five were playoff-bound before the weekend began. Pachuca (7-3-7) snagged the No. 6 berth with a 3-1 victory over Guadalajara. Jaguares (8-6-3) -- which has one local player: Fontana's Gustavo Ruelas -- got in with a 1-0 win over Morelia.
These are the quarterfinal matchups:
2/Monterrey vs. 7/Tijuana
3/America vs. 6/Pachuca
1/Santos vs. 8/Jaguares
4/Morelia vs. 5/Tigres
Cruz Azul (6-4-7) was the final weekend's biggest loser. The Cementeros dropped from eighth to ninth after giving up two goals in the first 13 minutes against America before rallying to even the score on Emanuel Villa's 73rd-minute strike. One more goal, and they would have pushed back ahead of Jaguares.
Three big clubs disappointed. Toluca (6-7-4) missed the playoffs for the fourth straight campaign -- the Diablos Rojos were 10th, but five points out of the running -- after winning four championships in eight years.
Pumas (3-7-7), which won last year's Clausura title, also failed to qualify during the Apertura. Guadalajara (4-10-3), the regular-season champ last fall, finished 15th.
Estudiantes Tecos (2-9-6), Guadalajara's No. 3 club, is headed to the Liga de Ascenso after finishing last. The Owls' fate has been set for three weeks.
Leon (11-0-5) and Lobos BUAP (8-7-3) have advanced to the Liga de Ascenso's Clausura final, which will be played Wednesday and Saturday. The victor will meet Apertura champ UAT Correcaminos in a two-leg playoff, and the winner will be promoted to the Primera Division.