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Pumas bowed out of this year's Apertura tournament with a disappointing home defeat to Cruz Azul. The defence, which has been solid all season, made a number of important mistakes and Cruz Azul deservedly went through to the semi-final after creating a number of chances.
Pumas began with the same team that had played the 0-0 draw in the Estadio Azul, with Cacho, Leandro and Castro all on the bench. The "cementeros" again started with Carlos Bonet, and Zeballos partnered Sabah up front.
The game was scheduled for a 5pm kick off, which seemed strange as Pumas may well have gained an advantage from playing at midday, since they are used to playing in those conditions. Cruz Azul have recently played on Saturday afternoons, and the conditions clearly suited them. Whatever might be said about Mariio Trejo's decision to change the kick off time, or whether pressure was brought to bear from TV companies, the match began at a sprightly pace, with both sides pushing up onto defenders to try and force an error, and the ball being moved swiftly around.
With Pumas at an advantage, only having to draw, it seemed that the first goal was going to be crucial, and within five minutes Pumas had it. Velarde played a nice ball up the touchline to Morales. His low cross was controlled nicely by Palencia in front of the goalkeeper at the near post, and he shot in from a tight angle to put Pumas in an excellent position.
This advantage was short-lived, however, as a couple of minutes later some sloppy defending had gifted Cruz Azul an equaliser, with some help from a neat Gerardo Torrado finish. It was more than a mild annoyance to Tuca who must have been livid that complete control of the fixture had been surrendered so soon. Sabah drove towards the area and the tackle was poorly missed by Verón. Velarde allowed the centre forward to advance unhindered to the by-line where he drove in a hard cross which Juárez cleared right into the danger zone at the D. Only Verón realised the danger and no-one had marked Torrado who had all the time in the world to pick his spot past a helpless Bernal.
It was not lost on football fans that both Palencia and Torrado had started their football careers with the club they had now scored against, in both cases for the second time. The match remained open, and fairly even right throughout a noisy first half, although Cruz Azul had perhaps the clearer chances. Jehu Chiapas acquitted himself well and looked as dynamic as he has done all season, and Íñiguez looked a significant threat, reaching the by-line on several occasions, but unable to find the killer cross.
Palacios and Juárez were exposed by Zeballos a couple of minutes after the Torrado goal, but this time Bernal was able to come to the rescue, racing out to block the shot and Sabah's follow up was stopped by Pikolín. Zeballos had another great chance at the end of the half as a Lozano free-kick floated dangerously to the far post, with Verón lost, and Bernal saved with his chest, Verón managing to deflect Lugo's follow-up shot for a corner. In between time Bernal had also palmed away a nice long range effort from Bonet.
Meanwhile at the other end a dangerous cross from Íñiguez saw Beltrán slice his clearance and force an excellent diving save out of Gutiérrez. Another cross from the right wing saw Dante López head just over with the goalkeeper floundering.
It was an entertaining first half, and the second began the same way. Tuca had gambled on putting on Leandro, who was clearly still not fully fit, and bringing off Chiapas, who paradoxically had been playing pretty well. Perhaps looking for more possession and control, the Pumas team began to lose dynamism, and slowly the "Máquina" (Machine) began to get the upper hand. The advantage began to tell, and around the hour mark the push by Cruz Azul was rewarded with the lead. Vigneri had pulled another good save out of Bernal, but unfortunately for the veteran Pumas keeper he was largely at fault for the goal. A nice cross by Torrado found Sabah who headed weakly towards goal, under pressure from Verón, but Bernal had come out, missed his punch and watched as the ball rolled slowly into an empty net.
The away team commendably kept up the pressure, and Pumas were visibly on the ropes. Tuca brought on Cacho for Morales, but the lack in width on the left was noticeale thereafter, and Cacho made little impression. Meanwhile the Cementeros kept pushing and a Sabah shot broke perfectly for Villaluz after a Bernal, and he shot between Verón's legs for the third.
Cruz Azul could now afford to hang back more, and as has happened before when Pumas have been behind this season, they huffed and puffed but to little effect, other than Leandro clashing heads with Villaluz, and the youngster having to go off with a gash to the head. Meanwhile Castro came on for Sabah to make a more defensive formation and protect the lead. From then on there was never any likelihood of a way back for the home side, and Pumas head off to relax for the winter, whil Cruz Azul advance to play Atlante in the semi-finals.
Pumas utlimately can look back on a decent season, which was blighted to a certain extent by key injuries. They finished as best defense and 4th in the General Table, but were unable to go that extra step.Goals
Juan Francisco Palencia (4 minutes) 1-0
Gerardo Torrado (6) 1-1
Miguel Sabah (59) 1-2
César Villaluz (67) 1-3CardsPumas
: Verón, PalenciaCruz Azul
: Riveros, Torrado, LozanoPlayer RatingsBernal 6
- some great saves that kept Pumas in the game, but a basic mistake for the second goalVelarde 6
- a lively performance, but like all of the Pumas defenders, not consistent enoughVerón 6
- fantastic and poor in equal measures: missed Sabah for his goal and for the cross that led to the first goal, but the quickest brain when it came to filling the holes in the defensePalacios 4
- his poorest game for a long time, was found out with balls played in behind himJuárez 5
- one or two decent link-ups with Íñiguez but a terrible clearance for the Torrado goalChiapas 7
- played at a high tempo and looked lively, Pumas were more sluggish when he came offMorales 6
- nice cross for the goal, but he has developed a tendency to fade as the game goes onEspinoza 5
- worked hard, but still lacks positional sense as a central midfielderÍñiguez 7
- caused a lot of problems when he got to the by-line, but his crossing was often too floatedPalencia 6
- not at fault, a well taken goal and some decent movementLópez 6
- equally López was very mobile and provided a good target for Chiapas in the first halfCacho 4
- achieved virtually nothing coming on on the left: a big disappointmentLeandro 5
- looked jaded and slightly off the pace, despite one or two nice touches, and some runs into spaceToledo 5
- would have been a better bet than Cacho: ran with purpose in the short time he was on and doubled up Beltrán with a fierce shotTuca 6
- probably started with the right team, but was unlucky that his defense decided to have an off day. With the one goal lead, Pumas should have been able to control the game, but they missed the possession football of Castro and Leandro in the middle. Maybe Pumas were also disadvantaged by the kick-off time, but this was most likely not Tuca's decision.Elsewhere in Mexico
Like their senior team, Pumas Morelos were eliminated this weekend, the junior side from the semi-finals of Primera A. After going down 1-0 at Irapuato in midweek, against the tightest defense in the league, they pushed hard at home but failed to capitalise on chances, and were caught on the break to go down 1-0 in Cuernavaca, and consequently 2-0 on aggregate. The "freseros" (strawberrymen) go through to play the "gallos blancos" (white roosters) of Querétaro in the final.
The dream team of Cuauthémoc Blanco and Daniel Ludueña kept Santos on course for a double championship, after they survived a spirited first half from the "gladiadores" in the second leg tie in San Luis. Jairo Patiño converted an early free kick to bring the home side within a goal after their 3-1 defeat last week, but an 80th minute penalty for a foul on Jiménez by Diego Cervantes saw the "potosino" sent off and a penalty awarded which Blanco converted. Ludueña finished the scoring five minutes later after a nice passing move for a 2-1 win and 5-2 overall.
Toluca went through to face Santos after an ultimately comfortable victory in the Bombonera against Tecos. Although it took a long time to break down the Tecos defense, the misses in the draw in the 0-0 draw in Guadalajara ultimately cost Tecos, with Mancilla and Nava grabbing late goals to claim a 2-0 victory and allow the Toluca crowd to breathe easy.
Atlante booked their spot to face Cruz Azul in the other semi-final, as they sneaked through by virtue of a higher league position after drawing 1-1 with Tigres in Cancún. With this being the same score as the first leg, the "Potros" (colts) advanced because of their 3rd place in the overall table. Gabriel Pereyra got a lead for Atlante which left Tigres needing two, and despite a 74th minute own goal by Mustafa, the home team held on for their semi-final spot.
Cruz Azul open against Atlante on Wednesday evening, the return in Cancún on Saturday. Santos host Toluca on Thursday and head off to the Estado de México for the return on Sunday midday.