Raul Jimenez, Carlos Salcido

Mexico down to four as América, León, Santos, Toluca advance in playoffs

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Regular season champions Club América came into the Mexico’s Liguilla as favorites to win a second straight title, and after taking a 2-2 result out of Nuevo León last week, Miguel Herrera’s team was on track to make another semifinal. All they needed to do was hold serve today at Estadio Azteca, so when Mexican international Raul Jimenez’s diving header gave the Aguilas a lead in Sunday’s second half, everything was playing out as expected – even more so when Tigres’ defender Hugo Ayala was dismissed three minutes in the 55th minute. Up a man and a goal with just over half an hour to go, the team that cruised to the tournament’s top seed seemed destined to ease through the playoff’s quarterfinal round.

Yet three minutes after going down a man, Tigres were back in the match, a lightning counter attack down their left leaving Alan Pulido to beat Moises Muñóz from near the spot, making it 3-3. América’s better seed meant they had the tiebreaker, but with 32 minutes to play, Tigres had hope. One more counter, a set piece, or just randomness would see them past the superliders.

But just as often as we see goals like Pulido’s build momentum, we see then serve as wakeup calls. On Sunday, having been draw back into a tie with Tigres, the Aguilas  woke up and eventually killed off the bulk of the mach’s final 32 minutes. Still, 10 minutes from time, the favorites were still nearly seen out of the tournament, with Emmanuel Villa’s potential winner nailing the bottom of Muñóz’s post before staying out.

América should have put the match away long before. In the first half, they had their chances to go up through Rubens Sambueza and Jimenez and couldn’t convert. Before Villa threatened to snatch the tie from them, they could have restored their lead yet took the 3-3 scoreline into the final minutes, and beyond the chances, they are just a much better team. Few would have predicted the defending champions would come this close to a quarterfinal exit.

In the semifinals, the competition won’t be as forgiving, but just as Pulido’s goal may have served as a wakeup call, this tie may have opened the Aguilas’ eyes to what lies ahead. With only Muñóz’s woodwork saving them from an unlikely elimination, América may now realize how hard it will be to win back-to-back titles.

Elsewhere

Santos Laguna 3 (6), Querétaro 1 (3)

The Guerreros were given reason to fear last week when two late Isaac Romo goals reduced their three-goal lead to one, but although Romo would add a third in the second half in Torreon, Querétaro would never get back to even footing with second seed. Carlos Darwin Quintero, who scored twice in leg one, added late brace on Sunday, with Oribe Peralta’s opener ensuring Santos held the lead throughout Sunday’s second leg.

León 4 (7), Morelia 0 (3)

The drama Monarcas restored with two late goals in leg one had dissipated by the middle of Saturday’s second half, with three goals in a 13-minute span building on Hernan Burbano’s first half opener to give León the four-goal lead they’d carry until the final whistle.

Whereas León’s defense had been crucial throughout the team’s qualification stage, their goals allowed (14) second to only América’s, Gustavo Matosas’s team found goalscoring depth they never saw in the regular season. While Mauro Boselli’s two goals added to the 13 he found before the playoffs, Léon also got goals from Luis Montes, Elias Hernández (both last Saturday), Burbano, Matías Britos, and José Vázquez.

Set to face Santos in the semifinals, those scoring options will come in handy, should their defense prove as generous as it was in leg one against Morelia.

Toluca 3 (4), Cruz Azul 1 (1)

The lower (fifth) seed, Toluca all but sealed their victory last week, going up 3-0 in leg one. On Saturday, Christian Giménez’s 33rd minute penalty conversion brought La Machina within two, but Guillermo Vazquez’s team never got any closer. Despite finishing the season with four straight looses, Toluca eased into the semifinals, Pablo Velazquez’s 78th minute goal eliminating any doubt the Diablos Rojos would be caught late.

Now the league’s best regular season attack (33 goals ) meets the league’s best defense, though América’s defense will have to return to form if they’re to keep their hopes of repeating alive.

WATCH: Zlatan free kick gives Man Utd lead in EFL Cup Final

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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It should’ve been an equalizer, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s EFL Cup Final opening goal was brilliant nonetheless.

Minutes after Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly ruled offside on a would-be opener, Oriel Romeu gave away a free kick from a bit more than 25 yards away from goal.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

The big Swede lorded over the opportunity with Paul Pogba, and elected to have a dig. Ibrahimovic curled it around the wall and past the fingertips of a diving Fraser Forster to put United ahead.

LIVE – Southampton, Manchester United in EFL Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: A general overview of the stadium prior to the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Southampton looks to put icing on its incredible rise to the Premier League with an EFL Cup Final win on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Standing in their way? PL giants Manchester United, who could give Jose Mourinho his first full tournament title as Red Devils boss.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic starts up top for United, with Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford on the bench.

New Saints signing Martin Caceres makes the bench along with EFL Cup Team of the Tournament midfielder Sofiane Boufal, while Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond will be trusted in the Starting XI.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Martial; Ibrahimovic. Subs: Romero, Blind, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Rashford.

Southampton: Forster, Cédric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (c), Ward-Prowse, Tadić, Redmond, Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Long, Rodriguez, Caceres, Boufal, Hojbjerg, McQueen

Kane, Dele react to Spurs thrashing of Stoke

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with teammate Harry Kane during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli believe the side’s 4-0 win over Stoke City on Sunday is a good start in making amends for a lackluster Europa League exit.

That’s especially true for Dele, who was sent off in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Gent.

“I felt horrible after the game and at halftime I apologized to the boys,” Dele said. “I went to see the guy right after the game to see if he was alright.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-0 Stoke ]

Dele then scored Spurs’ fourth goal on Sunday, though he was a bit surprised to see hat trick hero Harry Kane slide the ball his way.

“We had a laugh at halftime,” Dele said. “I thought he was going to go for four.”

As for Kane, he was the clear cut star of the show in netting a hat trick before the break to help Spurs create a good feeling at White Hart Lane.

“It was important,” Kane said. “We wanted to come out and get back to winning ways. Thursday was very disappointing for us.”

As for the hat trick?

“Just trying to get my shots off,” he said. “Bit of luck with the third one but if you don’t shoot you don’t score.”

A bit of North London’s Wayne Gretzky in that quote.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Stoke: Kane runs wild

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  • Kane tops 100 club goals
  • Dele Alli also scores
  • Cameron subs on for Stoke

Harry Kane and Tottenham Hotspur put on quite an advertisement for Sunday’s PL Download on NBCSN with an outright thumping of Stoke City at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Kane had a hat trick and an assist before halftime, as Spurs throttled Stoke 4-0.

The win moves Spurs back into second, 10 points back of leaders Chelsea and a point ahead of idle Manchester City. Stoke is 10th with 32 points.

USMNT back Geoff Cameron made his first appearance since Oct. 22, 2016, when he subbed into the game for the final nine minutes plus stoppage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane’s deft dribble in the 10th minute could’ve provided a goal but didn’t even bring a shot as Spurs got a bit too cute with passing inside the 18.

Stoke found a rare early chance minutes later, though Spurs had their angles covered and Joe Allen‘s rip into the side netting was largely a cosmetic offer.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli’s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

Hugo Lloris thwarted an offside but unflagged Peter Crouch on the doorstep in the 24th minute.

Jan Vertonghen and Kane each had chances before the half-hour mark, with the former belting one off the cross bar and the latter shaping an aesthetically-pleasing effort just wide of the frame.

Kane’e second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant. He added a third with a deflected free kick for his 102nd club goal.

Kane turned provider for Dele before halftime, racing past Bruno Martins Indi to send the youngster forward for a sliding goal. 4-0.

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The second half started with a rough moment for Spurs, as stalwart center back Toby Alderweireld walked off injured. This on the day Vertonghen returned to the fold, and also left after little more than an hour.

Kane briefly left the match with an injury as well.