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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Episode 4 - A New Blog

Hi to you long suffering Pumas fans, who have missed the definitive English language match reports you grew to love here at PUMAS Blog.

Well there is GREAT NEWS - It's back ... but at a new location, so reset your home-page to

See you there!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

QF 2nd Leg: Pumas 1 - 3 Cruz Azul

Video highlights here.

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.

Juan Francisco Palencia (4 minutes) 1-0
Gerardo Torrado (6) 1-1
Miguel Sabah (59) 1-2
César Villaluz (67) 1-3

Pumas: yellow: Verón, Palencia
Cruz Azul: yellow: Riveros, Torrado, Lozano

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - some great saves that kept Pumas in the game, but a basic mistake for the second goal
Velarde 6 - a lively performance, but like all of the Pumas defenders, not consistent enough
Verón 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 defense
Palacios 4 - his poorest game for a long time, was found out with balls played in behind him
Juárez 5 - one or two decent link-ups with Íñiguez but a terrible clearance for the Torrado goal
Chiapas 7 - played at a high tempo and looked lively, Pumas were more sluggish when he came off
Morales 6 - nice cross for the goal, but he has developed a tendency to fade as the game goes on
Espinoza 5 - worked hard, but still lacks positional sense as a central midfielder
Íñiguez 7 - caused a lot of problems when he got to the by-line, but his crossing was often too floated
Palencia 6 - not at fault, a well taken goal and some decent movement
López 6 - equally López was very mobile and provided a good target for Chiapas in the first half
Cacho 4 - achieved virtually nothing coming on on the left: a big disappointment
Leandro 5 - looked jaded and slightly off the pace, despite one or two nice touches, and some runs into space
Toledo 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 shot

Tuca 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.

Next Up
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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

QF 1st Leg: Cruz Azul 0 - 0 Pumas

Video here.

Despite being outplayed and looking well below par, Pumas take a slight advantage into the quarter-final second leg after Cruz Azul failed to take their chances and the first leg finished goalless. The game was also notable for the return, off the bench, of talisman Leandro Augusto (picture) after an eight-week lay-off due to a pubitis operation.

Tuca sprang a couple of surprises in the starting line-up, where there was no place for Juan Carlos Cacho, Palencia teaming up with López, and Cabrera took over the left-wing spot from Morales who has had a disappointing couple of weeks. The Cruz Azul side included ex-Pumas captain Joaquín Beltrán and ex-Pumas midfielder Jaime Lozano, while Zeballos partnered Sabah up front with Villaluz tucked in behind.

The first five or ten minutes belonged to Pumas who moved the ball around comfortably without really asking any difficult questions of the home defense, the only worry for the sky-blues an Íñiguez corner which bounced around in the area. Then Torrado started to impose himself more against the relatively inexperienced pairing of Espinoza and Chiapas and Cruz Azul had a couple of half chances with long range shots from Villaluz and Zeballos. In the meantime an excellent Villaluz cross had found Sabah unmarked deep in the Pumas area, but the striker should have done better as his effort clipped the top of the bar.

On 20 minutes Cruz Azul had strong appeals for a penalty. Sabah pushed into the area and Palacios clipped across the top of the ball and onto the number eleven's ankle. Sabah struggled on and after the ball was cleared the Azul's players' protests were waved away by referee Gómez. There have defeinitely been penalties awarded for less, and Pumas were lucky to escape this one, while Palacios needs to curb his natural instinct to dive in, particularly in the area.

Meanwhile the Pumas attack was toothless, and Ferretti replaced the lightweight Cabrera with Morales on the left. Íñiguez on the right was looking more dangerous, but Palencia and López were coming very deep and rarely had the ball facing goal. As the half drew to a close, however, the home side's domination was on the wane, and it was only an excellent save from Gutiérrez which denied Espinoza's scissors kick after good work from Íñiguez.

The beginning of the second half was relatively quiet, but Cruz Azul came out determined to make their first-half pressure count, and they showed more intensity than Pumas, particularly with Vela on for Carlos Bonet. Nevertheless Pumas started to create some danger and on the hour Espinoza raced in nicely from an Íñiguez free-kick but shot against his own player.

Vigneri came on for Sabah to add venom to the home attack, while to enormous cheerws from the away support Leandro Augusto returned to the midfield to replace Chiapas. He immediately showed what the team has been missing towards the end of the regular season with some neat touches and forward drive, but Cruz Azul did not allow him all his own way. Realising perhaps that with the away leg to come, and needing an aggregate win to progess (Pumas only need a draw due to their higher league position), the "cementeros" created a couple of chances towards the end that could have snatched the result. Riveros and Torrado had off-target attempts, but the best chance came with a minute to go. Vigneri found himself with a free header deep in the area, but Bernal produced an excellent reaction save to push the ball away.

Ferretti was rather upset with the refereeing after the game claiming Pumas should have had a penalty for a foul on íñiguez. While he may have a point, an equally clear foul on Sabah by Palacios was not given. The official was erratic in his decision making. He played the advantage rule well but a couple of his yellow cards, particularly Leandro and Juárez for Pumas and Riveros for Cruz Azul, were over officious.

Cruz Azul now travel down Insurgentes for the second leg in CU next Sunday afternoon, at the unusual time of 5pm.


Pumas: yellow: Palacios, Juárez, Leandro, Verón (after the final whistle)
Cruz Azul: yellow: Riveros, Torrado

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - did everything right and an excellent save near the end
Juárez 6 - would be nice to see him link up more with Íñiguez but a solid performance
Palacios 5 - a rather erratic game, some good tackles but also some poor clearance headers and the "penalty" on Sabah
Verón 8 - imperious, never looked in the least flustered
Velarde 6 - is beginning to find the dynamism he had this time last year
Chiapas 5 - overshadowed a little in the middle, could never assert himself
Espinoza 6 - his best performance in this position, but Castro was on the bench and could be back soon
Íñiguez 7 - the chief danger going forward and a couple of excellent runs and telling crosses
Palencia 5 - isolated and played too deep. His first touch was not good.
López 5 - tried hard but rarely found himself in goal-scoring positions
Cabrera 4 - looked overwhelmed by the occasion
Morales 6 - added dynamism and movement when he came on
Leandro 6 - showed enough to think that he might revive Pumas's attacking fortunes if they get through next week

Tuca - 6 an interesting idea to go with Cabrera, but frankly could just have been a kick up the backside for Morales, who has been slightly off his game

Elsewhere in Mexico
Mexico advanced to the next stage of World Cup Qualifying (the six-team group) only on goal difference after a poor display in a rain-soaked San Pedro Sula saw them lose 1-0 in Honduras. The goal was an own-goal by Ricardo Osorio, but much more worrying was the level of performance, as the midfield of Sinha and Torrado were completely outplayed. Luckily for the Mexicans, Jamaica could only beat Canada 3-1 and so Mexico go through by a couple of goals. Eriksson is now under some pressure as manager, even though, as none other than Tuca Ferretti pointed out, the problems run much deeper than just the manager. Their next competitive game is away to the USA in the first of the "Hexagonal" qualifiers.

Cuauthémoc Blanco made his return to Mexican football, as he started for Santos in their first leg quarter-final against San Luis. The green and whites, the defending champions, defeated the highest-ranked team 3-1, with notable performances from Blanco and Daniel Ludueña, the Argentinian who has been missing for a lot of the season. San Luis made things difficult for themselves, conceding an early own-goal through Óscar Mascorro, Ludueña then doubling the lead after a pass from Blanco. San Luis pulled one back when Píriz converted a Braulio Luna cross to make it 2-1, but a rebound off Vuoso gave Santos a two-goal advantage going to San Luis.

I am not sure what to make of Blanco coming as a reinforcement for Santos. I was under the impression that, despite the MLS season having finished, the transfer window (which is not yet open) was there for a reason. It is also surprising that teams in Mexico do not have to register players for the tournament at the outset. And it is also interesting how much more quickly Cuauthémoc Blanco's international papers came through compared to Martín Bravo's.

The other two quarter-final ties ended in draws. Tecos, despite dominating their home game against Toluca, were unable to make the breakthrough as Hernán Cristante the "diablos" goalkeeper had an excellent game. Equally the "owls" (tecolotes) missed a hatful of opportunities, particularly in the first half, and were unable to capitalise on the early sending off of Carlos Esquivel. The worst miss was by Fredy Bareiro who hit the post with the goal gaping, but the normally reliable Ruiz also had a couple of decent opportunities to break the final 0-0 scoreline.

Meanwhile Atlante hung in against Tigres in an intense game in Monterrey achieving a 1-1 draw that leaves them favourites to progress. Despite falling behind early on to a Hugo Sánchez header the Cancún team stuck to their task and got their reward with a 75th minute equaliser from Luis Gabriel Rey.

Pumas Morelos advanced to the semi-finals of the Primera A tournament, despite losing 1-0 to Tigres B in Cuernavaca. The hard work had been done in midweek as despite falling behind early on to a committed Tigres outfit, late goals from Oscar Rojas and substitute Eduardo Herrera saw the Pumas "filial" take a goal advantage back to Morelos after their 2-1 victory. The aggregate draw sees Pumas progress as the higher-ranked team and they will now face Irapuato who squeezed past León.

Next Up
Pumas will play the second leg against Cruz Azul in CU on Sunday. The other quarter-finals will also be completed at the weekend. Pumas Morelos travel to Irapuato on Wednesday for the first leg of the Primera A semi final.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Game 17: Monterrey 1 - 0 Pumas

Video here.

Pumas ended their regular season campaign with a poor performance and a 1-0 defeat in Monterrey. The home side were already eliminated and Pumas had already qualified so it made for an odd atmosphere inside the stadium. In the end they can take a few positives from the game: they finish with the best defensive record in the league (13 goals conceded) and incidentally joint top goal difference with Toluca, they will play the quarter-final second leg at home against Cruz Azul, and at least Efraín Juárez (picture) continued his good form.

Tuca began with the same team that started the second half so tamely last week, with Espinoza keeping his place in Castro's spot, and Palencia and Cacho inexplicably starting ahead of Dante López. Monterrey beagan with the twin strike force of Suazo and Borgetti.

The game had barely settled down when Monterrey had the lead. From a poorly conceded free-kick on the left hand side, Suazo blasted an optimistic shot towards the front post. Jehu Chiapas looked to clear but only succeeded in getting enough on the ball to push it past a badly placed Bernal at the front post. Against Atlante they were similarly punished for poor organisation defending a free kick with Maldonado's goal and this is an area Ferretti needs to look at as the Liguilla approaches.

Still, there was plenty of time for Pumas to get into it, but they failed to control the midfield and therefore created little pressure. It is unfortunate for the Pedregal team that they have lost both their major playmakers from the middle to injury: Chiapas has done reasonably well, but it is asking a lot of Espinoza to step right into Castro's shoes in a position he is unfamiliar with. Maybe the recall of Alex Diego could have been an option?

Pumas's best spell came around the 20 minute mark. First Íñiguez created a chance for Palencia, who shot narrowly over. Then, in the best move of the match Morales stormed into the area after a one-two with Cacho but Recio made a superb tackle as the left-winger was about to shoot. The "Rayados" (Stripes) created little in the way of chances either and most of the play took place near the centre circle.

Nevertheless Pumas should have been level on the stroke of half time, as a lovely diagonal ball from Chiapas found Íñiguez and his cross fell to Cacho unmarked about 8 yards out. The striker's tentative stab was very well saved by Martínez who had begun to narrow the angle, but the suspicion remains that Cacho should have done better.

For the second half night had fallen over the Cerro de la Silla (the famous saddle mountain), and sadly a veil had fallen over any quality football. Pumas more or less monopolised possession, but with Monterrey falling back more there was no real cutting edge, and only Íñiguez really looked like putting any pace on the game. Meanwhile Borgetti and Suazo could have taken out their pipe and slippers at the other end. Even the introduction of last week's hero Dante López on the hour made little difference.

The match meandered to a close, the play so dull that the Monterrey fans began fighting amongst themselves, presumably just looking for something to hold their interest. Pumas now have to look forward to the Play-offs, but they will not progress far playing like this. Their defensive solidity counts for little if they concede first and Cacho and Palencia have to start putting their chances away.

Humberto Suazo (6 minutes) 1-0

None - an indication of the lack of intensity in the game.

Player Ratings
Bernal 5 - the only thing he did was concede to another deflected free-kick. Must take some responsibility for the poor organisation at dead-ball plays.
Velarde 5 - we need to see more dynamic play coming forward, which is what he offers at his best
Palacios 6 - stayed deep but never really troubled
Verón 7 - if anything showed the most attacking urgency of anyone with a couple of dynamic runs forward
Juárez 7 - patrolled his right flank confidently, and is in a good vein of form
Morales 5 - one or two nice touches, but needs to be involved more
Chiapas 6 - a pity about the deflection for the goal, he went into his shell a little but still produced some nice passes
Espinoza 5 - lots of effort but still looks a little lost at "contención" (ball-winning midfielder)
Íñiguez 7 - looked Pumas's best option for a breakthrough and created a couple of chances that weren't taken
Cacho 5 - one or two nice passes, but he needs to score goals, and his first half miss was poor
Palencia 5 -holds the ball up well but like Cacho he needs to put the ball in the net when he has the chance
López 5 - made little difference but made one or two nice runs across the defence
Toledo 5 - his good form of a few games ago seems to have disappeared

Tuca 5 - a negative game-plan backfired. With qualification assured it would have been nice to see Pineda, Cabrera, Cortés or Bravo given a run

Elsewhere In Mexico
Pumas Morelos finished top of Primera A after defeating Mérida 2-1 in Cuernavaca. Luis Fuentes put them ahead after 37 minutes, but Enrique Pérez equalised for the visitors ten minutes after half-time. With ten minutes left Eduardo Herrera grabbed the winner, and Pumas progress to play Tigres B next week.

It was a bad week for Chivas, who despite having 25 points after their 2-0 win over Indios, failed to qualify on goal difference for the Liguilla. Tecos beat Puebla 3-0 with goals from Alcántar, Bareiro and De Pinho, and so edged out "el rebaño sagrado" (the sacred herd) by two goals. Chivas also lost at home 2-0 to Internacional of Brazil in the Copa Sudamericana semi-final first leg after Omar Arellano missed three clear chances for the home side. They now need to win by three in Porto Alegre if they are to progress to the final.

Cruz Azul claimed 5th spot overall with a comfortable 4-1 win over Jaguares, with Pablo Zeballos grabbing a hatrick. The consolation for Jaguares was by "El Bofo" Bautista in possibly his last game for the club. Pachuca let slip a chance to qualify with a poor 1-1 draw at home to Atlas. The "Tuzos" (Pachuca are known as the Tuzos - a kind of mole - because of their mining heritage) took the lead through the influential Christián Giménez, but almost immediately conceded an Atlas equaliser through Darío Botinelli.

Tigres qualified for the play-offs at the expense of Morelia who they defeated 2-1 in Michoacán. Monarcas played for an hour without Salazar, who received a harsh straight red, and Guillermo Marino got two for Tigres. Toluca booked their play-off spot with a 1-0 home victory against leaders San Luis, with Sinha getting the winner for the "diablos rojos" (red devils). Víctor Pírez missed a penalty for San Luis.

Walter Gaitán and Hugo Rodallega scored as Necaxa saw off América 2-0 in the dead game between two teams already eliminated. Necaxa therefore avoid finishing bottom of the general classification; América finish bottom of Group 2. In a dull game in Torreón, Santos and Atlante played out a 0-0 draw which puts the "Potros" (colts) into 3rd place overall. Santos finish in 10th place but qualify because of the group system, as they finished 2nd in Group One. Morelia and Chivas miss out with better records.

The Quarter-Finals
The higher ranked team will play the home leg second. There will be no midweek games as Pachuca did not qualify and therefore there is no rush to finish the championship before the World Club Championship.
San Luis (1) v Santos (10)
Toluca (2) v Tecos (7)
Atlante (3) v Tigres (6)
Pumas (4) v Cruz Azul (5)

Next Up
Pumas play their quarter-final first leg on 22nd November, the return leg on 30th. Pumas Morelos play Tigres B on the same date in the quarter-finals of Primera A. Chivas travel to Brazil for their second leg tie against Internacional in the Copa Sudamericana semi-final.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Game 16: Pumas 3 - 0 Tecos

Video highlights here.

Pumas qualified for the Liguilla of Apertura 2008 with an ultimately convincing win over Group 2 rivals Tecos. The match was billed as the best attack in the league (Tecos) against the best defense (Pumas) and in the end the Pumas defense carried it, with the team from Guadalajara restricted to very few chances. The bad news for Pumas was that key midfielder Israel Castro (picture) joined Leandro and Barrera on the injured list as he twisted his ankle just before half-time. Equally unfortunately for the player, he had just been called up to Eriksson's Mexican squad for the game against Ecuador, and he will now miss that opportunity as he is out for a couple of weeks.

The only slightly surprising aspect about the starting line-up was the omission of Dante López. Otherwise the team was the one that beat Jaguares well in midweek. Tecos omitted talisman Rodrigo Ruiz, with suspicions that he was not at match fitness, and central defender Leaño.

The first fifteen minutes were relatively even, with neither side taking control of the middle. Of the wide players, only Íñiguez looked dangerous, while Morales for Pumas, and Medina and Sandoval for Tecos looked innocuous or were subdued by good defending. The home team however gradually gained the ascendancy, particularly in terms of possession, and Verón narrowly failed to push the ball past Corona after latching onto a free kick.

Although Pumas had control of the game, the opportunities they made were all wasted, Palencia heading over after a good Íñiguez cross and then later nodding another chance weakly at the keeper. Meanwhile an excellent 27-pass move by the UNAM team came to an end with Cacho completely miskicking a decent chance. Tecos's best moment was a long range effort from De Pinho that Bernal handled with no difficulty.

Half time came with the only further incident the injury to Castro, who twisted his ankle as he went for a tackle and immediately knew he was in trouble. After a minute or two it was clear he could not continue and Fernando Espinoza took his place in the midfield. Both teams were well set at the back and even after the break it was difficult to see the deadlock broken. The match began to meander, and it even looked as though a goalless draw might be on the cards.

Tuca realised that something needed to happen and with twenty minutes left he withdrew both wide players, Íñiguez and Morales, and put on Toledo and a third striker, Dante López. He clearly figured that the Pumas defence was controlling the Tecos attacking threat and he could move to 4-3-3, with Palencia tucked in behind the front two of López and Cacho.

It did not take long for the change to bear fruit. On 72 minutes a long Bernal clearance was headed on nicely by López and Cacho raced on into the space and dragged the ball with him. As Corona came out he neatly placed the ball past the UAG goalkeeper by the near post to put Pumas into a valuable lead.

Tecos began to push forward more, realising that their play-off place was at risk, despite having a game in hand on their rivals. De Pinho managed a decent header but Bernal was well-positioned, but in Tecos's efforts to score there were now many more spaces being left at the back. As the ball came through the middle on 80 minutes, Palencia pushed the ball nicely through to López, free on the edge of the area, and he lashed into the far corner for the second, and conclusive, goal.

"El Piojo" Herrera played his last card by throwing on Ruiz, and although he showed a few nice touches, Pumas were in no mood to concede and in the final few minutes could have had three more goals, as Toledo wasted two excellent cchances before Dante López grabbed his second. The Paraguayan surged into the area, but his shot was parried by Corona. Following up, Cacho helped the ball goalwards but defender Marcelo Sosa palmed it away and López was able to put in the rebound as the referee played an excellent advantage. Sosa was subsequently shown the red card and the match was over.

Pumas, although they may not finish in the top two places in the group (Morelia and Tecos can overtake them) will at least be amongst the highest placed in the General Classification. Tecos have an outstanding fixture against Atlante to make up the lost ground.

Juan Carlos Cacho (72 minutes) 1-0
Dante López (81) 2-0
Dante López (9) 3-0

Pumas: yellow: Palencia (late tackle)
Tecos: red: Sosa (handling on the line after a previous yellow)

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - did all that was asked and a lovely long clearance for the first goal
Velarde 6 - had a lot of pressure coming down the right - it was Tecos's main outlet but coped well
Júarez 7 - his best game for Pumas - Sandoval did nothing on the left
Palacios 6 - a solid performance, but occasionally his clearance headers fell into dangerous areas
Verón 8 - outstanding and covered Velarde exceptionally well
Castro 6 - a decent first half, Pumas did not look so composed with Espinoza on
Chiapas 6 - not so incisive as in midweek, but some good distribution. He needs to work on his shooting from range
Morales 5 - quiet, and dropped too deep
Íñiguez 6 - the best attacker of the first half
Palencia 6 - he failed to take a number of chances, but worked much better holding up the ball behind the front two
Cacho 7 - with López on the field he looked a better player and took his goal well
López 8 - extremely influential scoring two and creating one
Espinoza 5 - worked hard but looked a little lost in the middle
Toledo 6 - did a lot of covering work with the three forwards on the field

Tuca 7 - a strange decision to leave out López, but made a brave move in his late substitutions and it paid off handsomely.

Elsewhere in Mexico
Santos missed a chance to ensure their qualification for the quarter-finals by conceding a late equaliser to already qualified San Luis. Ludueña took the lead for the visitors, San Luis drew level through Coudet, Santos went ahead again with a goal by Torres, but Cervantes got the 2-2 draw with a minute to go. "El Bofo" Bautista was the key figure for Jaguares as the team from Chiapas, who are already eliminated, compromised Pachuca's chances with a 2-1 win. Likewise Cruz Azul struggled against Indios and went down 1-0 to a Maggiolo winner. Nicolas Vigneri was sent off near the end for the "cementeros".

Toluca climbed above Tigres in Group 3 with a Héctor Mancilla winner in a 1-0 victory, his eleventh of the season. Atlas kept their slim qualification hopes alive by beating group 2 leaders Morelia 2-1. Achucarro and Vargas scored for the home side, while Droguett got a late consolation for Monarcas. Atlante could not confirm their quarter-final place losing to Necaxa's first win in thirteen games, the winner a Hugo Rodallega penalty.

Chivas, playing a reserve side in preparation for their Copa Sudamericana semi-final this week, went down 2-1 in Puebla, and will now struggle to qualify. América kept alive their extremely slim hope with a 1-0 win over Monterrey courtesy of an early Alfredo Moreno goal. Monterrey, Pumas's final regular season opponents, are now eliminated.

Two teams, San Luis and Pumas, have now booked their place in the last 8, while only Puebla, Jaguares, Monterrey and Necaxa are definitely out. Of the big teams, Cruz Azul have their fate in their own hands as they host Jaguares, while América and Chivas must rely on other results going their way, while beating Necaxa and Indios respectively.

Next Up
Pumas play Monterrey in a game which means little for qualification, but will decide where Pumas finish in the general table, and therefore who they will face. It promises to be a very interesting game in Torreón with Atlante playing Santos, both teams in Group 1. If Santos slip up then Pachuca or Indios could sneak through, while the Cancún team need just a point (they also face Tecos in midweek). Monarcas and Tigres who have both had good seasons face each other in what could be a winner takes all clash in Morelia.

Incidentally the games are not all to be played at the same time as in some previous tournaments. This is presumably to accomodate tv schedules.

On Wednesday Mexico take on Ecuador in Phoenix without their European-based players, one week ahead of their final group clash in Honduras. Chivas play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana semi-final against Internacional.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Game 6: Jaguares 0 - 3 Pumas

Video highlights here.

Pumas put themselves right back into contention for a play-off place and leapt up to third in the overall table with a much-needed away win in Tuxtla Gutierrez against an increasingly forlorn Jaguares team. There was much more of a cutting edge on display than some previous Pumas performances, and two nice goals in the first twenty minutes settled nerves and allowed the team to play.

Tuca had again revamped the starting structure, reverting ostensibly to 4-4-2, but with the wide men Íñiguez (picture) and Morales tucking inside a little and with licence to play behind a holding front two of López and Cacho. Chiapas continued in the left-hand side (and more attacking) midfield role.

The game (after the false start where Mauricio Morales had to call play back to kick off again) had an amibitious start from both teams, and there was a lot of movement and endeavour. Both teams were also keen to play the ball to feet and work on precise passing. But before ten minutes had gone, the villain on Saturday became hero for the visitors when Ismael Íñiguez put Pumas in front. After Chiapas played him the ball he beat one player and took a nice one two from López, bursting between two defenders and slotting the ball underneath Villaseñor. It was a move made at pace, and definitely a nice tonic for both "El Cachas" and Pumas.

Only nine minutes later the away side were two up. Again it stemmed from good work by Íñiguez who controlled a difficult ball out on the right touchline. Stabbing the ball across to Morales, "El Zurdo" played another nice one-two, with Cacho, and although Villaseñor saved the first effort, Morales was able to head in the rebound for the second. After such a barren spell it was good to see Pumas's four main forward players creating danger and scoring goals.

Jaguares had to react and "Bofo" Bautista started to come into the game, coming deeper than usual and creating some space for Mora, Danilinho and Rojas. But Pumas continued to have more of the ball, and Rodolfo Espinoza came on early for Jaguares to try and turn things around. The match started to lack impetus as Pumas looked satisfied while the team in orange struggled to impose themselves. Jaguares did manage a couple of efforts before half-time, a long-range attempt from Luiz and Bernal having to save (albeit comfortably) from Rojas.

The second half started as the first had finished, Pumas holding a lot of possession but going forward with little urgency, and Jaguares scraping around and pushing forward with intensity when they had the ball. The Pumas defence controlled things calmly, allowing only a weak shot from Gutiérrez in the way of chances, plus a couple of shots from long range. Finally the team from Chiapas began to run out of steam.

From then on the game was effectively over - there seemed little way back for Jaguares and Dante López almost made it three on the hour clipping the bar with a meaty strike from the edge of the area. Then when he made way for Palencia, the veteran striker pulled a magnificent save out of Villaseñor with a curling shot headed for the top corner. It was only a couple of minutes later when "El Gatillero" Palencia got the third, after a catalogue of errors fom the Jaguares defense. A cross from Castro was miscleared by both central defenders and Palencia swivelled nicely to beat a non-plussed Villaseñor from about 8 yards out, who frankly should have done better.

Jaguares kept at the task but never really looked like breaching a well-set Pumas defense where Verón was again outstanding. They now look to be out of the running for a Liguilla place, while Pumas have their destiny in their own hands for the final two games, against Tecos and Monterrey.

Ismael Íñiguez (9 minutes) 0-1
Fernando Morales (19) 0-2
Juan Francisco Palencia (77) 0-3

Pumas: yellow: Velarde (foul on Danilinho)
Jaguares: yellow: Rojas (complaining to the referee)

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - did all that was asked of him - a couple of decent saves
Velarde 6 - saw something of him going forward and was safe in defense
Palacios 6 - steady and his distribution was better, although overplays the long ball
Verón 7 - once again approaching his best form he was untroubled and composed
Juárez 6 - a decent effort but his crossing lacks precision
Castro 7 - getting better and won a good deal of ball
Chiapas 7 - his passing and vision were very good
Morales 6 - nice goal and then drifted out of the game
Íñiguez 8 - man of the match for creating the first two goals and laying to rest Saturday's ghost
Cacho 6 - looks good laying it off for others but has lost the goalscoring touch (if he ever had it)
López 6 - Tuca is right to keep faith in the Paraguayan who contributes a lot even when not scoring
Palencia 7 - after constantly saying he looked unlikely to score, in this game he looked dangerous and his confidence is high
Toledo & Cabrera - neither on for very long but both looked spritely

Tuca 7 - his tactical judgement worked out this time, and if Pumas are to do well he needs to get the best out of Morales and Íñiguez

Elsewhere in Mexico
Two other pending league games were played on Wednesday. The Game 9 fixture between Tecos and Pachuca ended in a 2-2 draw in Guadalajara. Both teams had chances to win but the outstanding figure was Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel calero who made a number of fine saves. Tecos thus missed a chance to go back to the top of a difficult Group 2.

Cruz Azul gained ground in the same group with a3-1 away win at Tigres. Goals from Joaquín Beltrán, Miguel Sabah and Nicolas Vigneri also allowed the "cementeros" to celebrate their passage through to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League after Marathón's 2-0 win over Saprissa.

Chivas advanced to the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana after coming from two behind to draw 2-2 with River Plate and advance 4-3 on aggregate. They will now play Internacional, who put out Boca Juniors, on12th and19th November.

Next Up
In what is turning out to be an exciting finish to the regular season, Pumas entertain Tecos on Sunday. Pumas Morelos play Cruz Azul Hidalgo.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Game 15: Chivas 1 - 1 Pumas

Video highlights here.

In an intense and closely-fought battle, Pumas and Chivas played out a draw, which despite being the result that the game deserved serves neither team as Morelia leapt to the top of group 2. Verón was the pick of the Pumas players and grabbed the lead for the away side, searching for their first win in the Jalisco in 26 years, but Patricio Araujo hit a fine long-range equaliser for Chivas.

Tuca had promised a change in thinking after the flaccid performances of the previous few games, but the solution he came up with was strange. Efrain Velarde found himself as a central defender in a three-man line with Verón and Palacios, while Juárez and Cabrera played as wing-backs. The extra ball-winning at the back was presumably to free up Castro and to play Chiapas instead of the more robust Alex Diego. Íñiguez also found himself playing up front alongside Cacho with López and Palencia on the bench.

The original line-up was not a real success, and within half-an-hour Tuca had changed it. The format did not suit Morales who was unsure what he was supposed to do and found little time and space. Given that he has been one of Pumas's better players this season it was curious to invent a system which effectively nullified him. Similarly strange was not starting with Toledo who had done such a good job in midweek and looks on form. He, however was the man to replace Morales on 30 minutes. Chivas left Medina on the bench, and continued with Sergio Santana and Omar Arellano up front. Ocampo deputised for Magallón.

Both sides started in an orderly fashion, not giving much away. Pumas probably edged possession but were able to create little danger. The only major incident in the first part of the game was a stupid stamp by Omar Arellano to Palacios's face. After a tackle Arellano was up first and his foot made clear contact with Pikolín's head. Most people agreed there should have been some sort of card, possibly red, and at best Arellano was careless, at worst malicious. Given that he was to receive a yellow card later on the moment was important. Palacios, with blood running from his face, was understandably furious.

The first clear chance of the game fell to Chivas as a lovely cross from Ramón Morales presented Baez with a clear header, but the chance was pushed wide. Cacho responded with a shot easily saved by Hernández after being set up by Íñiguez. The only other dangerous action of the first half was a long range effort from Solis which Bernal palmed away for a corner. Meanwhile Pumas had lacked threat out wide and were trying to push through the middle, as Cabrera and Juárez were unable to create anything down the wings.

The second half began as the first had finished, with a closely fought battle in midfield, with some precise passing from both sides, but also with organised and resolute defence. It took a fantastic piece of play from a Chiapas corner on the left for Verón to open the scoring. The Paraguayan defender lost his marker with a curved run away from goal and then attacked the ball, hanging in the air to rifle the ball past Hernández.

Chivas now had to push forward more, and Efraín Flores rearranged the team, with Ocampo and ex-Puma Gonzalo Pineda making way for Medina and de la Mora, after Pineda had got overheated at Palacios celebrating the goal. There were now more spaces, and Pumas really should have gone two ahead as Íñiguez wasted the chance of the game. A one-two put him clear one-on-one with the keeper but "el Cachas" struck the simple chance against the post and the opportunity had gone.

From then on Chivas started to gain the upper hand, and Araujo equalised with a fabulously struck shot from the edge of the area. Chiapas closed the space in front of the defence, but no-one else took responsibility and there was plenty of time for the Chivas number 5 to belt the ball past a motionless Bernal. The swing of the game was now definitely with the home side, and they started to do what Pumas had failed to do during most of the game - get in some good quality crosses. The Pumas defence held well, but Chivas nevertheless could have won it at the death as Salazar wasted a great chance from a Medina cross.

The result was a fair reflection of the game, and probably suits Chivas more as they are now on 22 points, in 2nd place in group 2. Pumas lie a further two points back, although they do have a game in hand.

Darío Verón (52 minutes) 0-1
Patricio Araujo (72) 1-1

Pumas: yellow: Castro
Chivas: yellow: Arellano

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - did what was asked of him, although rather puzzling he did not move for the goal
Juárez 5 - had no real defensive worries, but had a lot of cover. With his system he needs to get forward more
Verón 8 - an excellent goal to cap a very good all-round performance
Palacios 6 - seemed to be in the thick of things but a defender always needs to keep his cool
Velarde 6 - did ok out of position but his attacking strengths were missed
Cabrera 5 - no real worries but lacked any cutting edge going forward
Castro 6 - the extra space in the middle saw him get forward more
Chiapas 7 - without the extra ball-winning duties he seems much more comfortable. Some excellent distribution
Morales 4 - lost and out of position - not really his fault
Cacho 5 - not really pacy enough to lead the front line
Íñiguez 6 - did enough to be worth another try in this position but he has to take those opportunities
Toledo 6 - continued his good form, but looked unsure about the team structure
López 5 - has had a recent run of bad form but is still a useful player
Palencia 5 - added nothing significant as there was little service from out wide

Tuca 6 - an interesting experiment, but I think the wing-back idea did not work even if there was more freedom in the midfield, and better passing through the middle. Cabrera is one for the future, but he does not seem quite at the level yet. Chiapas is worth perservering with and a place needs to be found in the system for Morales.

Elsewhere in Mexico
Two late goals gave América a 3-1 win in the Estadio 3 de marzo against Tecos after going a goal behind. This puts the "Águilas" with an outside chance of qualification for the Liguilla in the very tight Group 2. Bruno Marioni and Damián Álvarez got the goals as Pachuca overcame Cruz Azul in Mexico City, as the "Máquina" lost the chance to take control of Group 2. Monterrey overcame their recent bad form and a first minute Luis Gabriel Rey goal to register their first win in 7 games, 2-1 over Atlante.

Edwin Santibáñez got the winner in the "battle of the basement" Indios overcoming Puebla 1-0. while in a dull game San Luis and Necaxa shared the points in Aguascalientes 1-1. Two "Bofo" Bautista penalties were not enough to save Jaguares from a thrashing in Morelia as Andrés Mendoza grabbed a hatrick for the home side in a 5-2 win. Meanwhile an excellent performance from Israel López, including two goals, helped Toluca brush aside Atlas 4-0. In the late Sunday game Tigres hung on for a 1-1 draw with Santos after having Pedro Benítez sent off. Fernando Arce got the equaliser for the Laguneros, but they could not force the winner.

Atlante still look in prime position to qualify in Group 1, but Santos and Pachuca are closing up. In Group 2 any of the six teams could qualify, with América bottom on 18 points and Morelia top on 24. San Luis look safe at the top of Group 3 with Tigres and Toluca battling it out for second spot.

Pumas Morelos qualified for the play-offs in Primera A with a 2-1 win over Veracruz. Goals came from Fuentes and Aguilar.

Next Up
Pumas travel to Jaguares on Wednesday for the postponed game 6.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

CONCACAF CL Game 6: Pumas 6 - 0 San Francisco

Video here.

In a largely irrelevant sixth group game, Pumas overwhelmed bottom-of-the-table San Francisco of Panama. The Panamanians performance cannot have pleased their manager Gary Stempl since it could charitably be described as abject. They managed only two goal attempts all match neither of which was even close to being on target, while Pumas kept the ball easily and attacked at will.

The home side started with the now accostumed mix of youth and experience, the first-team players this time being David Toledo (picture), Juan Francisco Palencia and Carlos Humberto González. Martín Bravo made his first start in the Ciudad Universitaria.

From the beginning it was clear that San Francisco were to offer little, and in particular Espinoza and Toledo down the right looked like they were playing against a village side, so easily did they move the ball around. Palencia was sluggish at the start, but Bravo darted about in a lively manner and was keen to take on the defenders. Nevertheless it seemed that Pumas were being over patient in their build-up play as they still had not made the breakthrough after half-an-hour.

Finally from a Toledo corner Palencia opened the scoring. Climbing high just outside the six-yard box he nodded the near-post delivery into the far corner past the incompetent lunge of the defender on the line. Toledo was finding ever more space and it was only a matter of time before the second goal came. On 40 minutes Toledo beat his marker and sent in a cross to the far post which Bravo finished with a powerful header, a just reward for the Argentinian's persistance, and some justification for his comments about wanting to play in the middle.

Pumas were now comfortable and there was a party atmosphere in the ground. Half time came and Tuca brought off Bravo (possibly with half an eye on the Chivas game) and replaced him with Javier Cortés. The third goal came almost immediately when Toledo was put through by a lovely long ball from González. He seemed to have lost the opportunity as he turned back behind the defenders but then finished beautifully with a low shot from outside the area.

San Francisco were in disarray and there now seemed the possibility that Pumas could reach double figures, so slack was the tackling and marking of the Central Americans. Palencia got the 4th on 54 minutes after he was put through one-on-one by Pineda, and then proceeded to miss a similar chance minutes later. Man of the match David Toledo came off shortly afterwards and it only remained for two lesser lights to complete the scoring.

Firstly Javier Cortés beat his marker inside the left side of the area and fired hard into the far corner past Valdez, his job undoubtedly made easier by lazy defending. Finally Fernando Santana was given acres of space outside the area, and he took advantage with a nice long range effort for the sixth.

Pumas, ironically given their shortage of goals in the Mexican championship, finish as leading goalscorers in the CONCACAF Champions League group stages, scoring thirteen in their three home games. It is refreshing to see the less experienced players making their mark, and it is no coincidence that Pumas Morelos are doing so well this season in Primera A. Pumas will find out their quarter-final opponents in December, and will be joined by the winner of the Dynamo v Firpo clash in Houston (Firpo go though in the event of a draw).

Juan Francisco Palencia (29 minutes) 1-0
Martín Bravo (40) 2-0
David Toledo (48) 3-0
Juan Francisco Palencia (54) 4-0
Javier Cortés (60) 5-0
Fernando Santana (72) 6-0

Pumas: none
San Francisco: yellow: Torres, Olivares

Player Ratings
Alejandro Palacios 5 - put under no pressure and had nothing to do
Fernando Espinoza 7 - full of bustle, and linked up well with Toledo
Luis Fuentes 6 - not challenged in the middle but initiated attacks dynamically
C.H. González 6 - defending against this team was a walk in the park
Juan Carlos Ramírez 5 - did reasonably well but he and Pineda didn't really click
Alex Diego 6 - won the ball well but his distribution was ponderous
Fernando Santana 6 - looking more and more confident
Orlando Pineda 5 - not his best game but a talent for the future
David Toledo 8 - stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch
Martín Bravo 7 - quick and direct, he looks better with each game, although admittedly here against poor opposition
Juan Francisco Palencia 6 - two good goals but should have had four
Javier Cortés 6 - dynamic with good movement but lacks a bit of pace
Luis Rosas 6 - the best compliment to pay him is that the rhythm did not drop when he replaced Toledo
Eduardo Herrera 5 - little time to impress but nevertheless put himself about

Tuca 7 - again good team selection, and there is certainly a good crop of players coming through, and hopefully putting pressure on for first team spots

Elsewhere in Mexico
Gabriel Pereyra and Clement Ovalle got the goals as Atlante went joint top of their group by beating Montreal Impact 2-1 in Cancún. Cruz Azul will have to wait and see if they qualify after going down 1-0 to Saprissa in Costa Rica, having Rogelio Chávez and Carlos Bonet sent off in the process. A draw between Marathón and Saprissa in the final game would put the Mexico City team out of the competition. Santos finished top of their group after drawing 4-4 with Municipal of Guatemala in a game of 4 penalties. Agustín Herrera converted two for the Laguneros as part of a hatrick. The draw for the quarter finals will be made in December.

Next Up
Pumas travel to Chivas where they have not won for over 20 years. Pumas Morelos entertain Veracruz.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Game 14: Pumas 1 - 1 Indios

Video highlights here.

Pumas's winless run continues, as they were held to a draw at home by strugglers Indios de Ciudad Juárez. As in the previous games, the UNAM team controlled the majority of possession, and looked untroubled at the back, but were unable to create any threat going forwards. Opposing teams now know quite clearly how to frustrate Pumas's toothless attack and despite many limitations Indios had little difficulty keeping the home team at bay.

After the midweek heroics of the "second" team, Ferretti reverted to the same starting team that gained a point in Puebla, Diego and Castro in the middle and Palencia and Dante López up front. Íñiguez, Espinoza, Palencia and Cacho who performed well against Houston were on the bench.

It was a beautiful sunny day at the Estadio Olímpico, and the crowd were in anticipatory mood. But the game began at the same tedious rhythm that had prevailed against Puebla, with Indios content to allow Pumas to play in front of them and look to break, while Pumas themselves held the ball without really knowing what to do with it. Castro seemed to be looking sideways most of the time, Diego's first touch cut down his space, and González and Velarde in particular seemed rushed moving the ball upfield.

It looked unlikely either team would score. Star man Andrés Chitiva on the left for Indios looked a shadow of the title winner with Pachuca (although he admittedly had been ill this week and may have been feeling the effects), and Tomás Campos found it hard to hold on to the ball. Diego and Castro won the ball determinedly and then often pumped aimless balls forward, or passed back to the defence who did the same.

It was Indios who had the first real chance in the 13th minute when Curbelo got away down the right, but instead of shooting he tried to find Santibáñez and Verón got back to intercept. Pumas replied with a nice cross from Morales which was met on the volley at the near post by Palencia, but he stabbed the ball just wide.

There was very little more in the way of action until Pumas spurned the chance of the first half. After a Verón free kick hit the wall Velarde crossed long, and González headed across goal to Palencia. He was unfortunate to see his shot skim off Malagueño and strike the post with Saucedo beaten, and the same defender blocked a fairly poor rebound attempt.

Tuca clearly recognised the lack of attacking threat, particularly due to the lack of urgency moving the ball forward from midfield, and so brought Toledo into the middle and brought on Íñiguez for Alex Diego. He also brought on Cacho for Palencia who had done a lot of running during the first half. Nevertheless the same style of football continued and referee Gabriel Gómez did little to help by forgetting about the existence of the advantage rule. Íñiguez did look a little more threatening down the right and Toledo more dynamic in the middle, but there were still no chances.

In the end it was Indios who broke the deadlock after some poor defending from Carlos Humberto González and Efraín Juárez. A long clearance by goalkeeper Saucedo fell just outside the Pumas box and González completely mistimed his jump allowing the ball to bounce into the area. Nevertheless the danger should have been cleared by Juárez, with Maggiolo the only Indios forward around, but the Pumas right-back got himself into a poor position and the ball bounced past him to give Maggiolo an opportunity. It all fell nicely for the Argentinian and he finished comprehensively past a helpless Bernal.

Indios nearly had a second when Campos spotted Bernal off his line and tried a shot from midfield, but the effort just cleared the bar, and the veteran goalkeeper may well have had it covered in any case. Apart from this Indios were now happy to sit back and wait to see if Pumas would do something. They arranged their two lines of four nicely and Pumas repeatedly had to return the ball to the defence and start again without achieving much. Both Cacho and López forced saves from Saucedo with long-range efforts, but apart from occasional bursts forward from Morales and Íñiguez there was little to shout about.

Nonetheless Pumas could have had a penalty when Íñiguez was sent tumbling in the area as Hernández fell awkwardly, but the referee was not well enough placed to award a spot kick. With quarter of an hour left Pumas were given a new lease of life, however, when Tomás Campos was sent off for Indios. Dante López bumped into him with his chest with the ball dead and the Indios midfielder threw himself to the ground in an exaggerated fashion which displeased the referee. He duly booked both players, apparently not realising that Campos already had a yellow for a shirt-pulling on Morales. He then had no option but to ask the player to leave the field.

In the remaining minutes Pumas pushed forward, and finally got the equaliser from a corner kick. David Toledo hit a nice cross in, Cacho headed on and the defender on the line played Morales onside who headed in from a couple of yards out. 1-1 was little more than the University team deserved for their possession, but they made hard work of breaking down a solid defensive unit, and despite ample ball and the extra man were not able to find a winner in the last ten minutes. Martín Bravo caused a few problems when he came on and put a shot narrowly over, and right at the end Toledo was cautioned for a dive in the area when he was touched by an Indios defender and had an outside shout for a penalty.

After the game Tuca admitted that the attacking strategy from the UNAM was not working, and suggested there might be some changes before Pumas's visit to Guadalajara to face Chivas next weekend. Pumas now fall to 5th in Group 2, while Indios gained a valuable point in their relegation struggle against Puebla and Necaxa.

Ezequiel Maggiolo (51 minutes) 0-1
Fernando Morales (79) 1-1

Pumas: yellow: Morales (late tackle), López (a bump with his chest), Juárez (poor tackle), Toledo (dive)
Indios: yellow: Curbelo, Maggiolo; red: Campos

Player Ratings
Bernal 5 - some aimless punting forward but generally sound
Velarde 5 - lost concentration on a few occasions
Verón 7 - had an excellent game and was justifiably irked by his fellow defenders conceding the goal
González 6 - looked good when he went forward and ok at the back except for the bad mistake for the goal
Juárez 6 - got forward nicely but still managed to pick up his 4th yellow card of the season
Castro 5 - needs to take more attacking responsibility
Diego 5 - poor first touch put him under pressure, wins a lot of ball and often loses or wastes it
Morales 6 - did a lot of work inside, but was double-marked much of the time
Toledo 6 - looks ok down the right, but Íñiguez offers more
Palencia 5 - worked hard but needs to score
López 5 - same comment as for Palencia
Cacho 6 - looked lively in the second half
Íñiguez 7 - the only really convincing attacker on the team
Bravo 6 - his best Pumas performance, looks fitter and his movement around the area gave the team more options, but he does need to look up more. He may have a point that he could do with playing in his preferred postition of centre forward.

Tuca 5 - it has taken him a while to realise that the strategy that works with Leandro in the team, does not work without him. He may learn from the lessons of the midweek team who attacked with more speed and purpose.

Elsewhere in Mexico
San Luis virtually assured their play-off spot with a 2-0 win over Monterrey who have not won in 7 games. Braulio Luna and Víctor Piríz got the goals. In a game of few chances which Jaguares finished with ten men, Toluca and the team from Tuxtla drew 0-0. Pachuca, playing in the Estadio Azul in Mexico City, drew 1-1 with Morelia with the equaliser an own goal from Marvin Cabrera to favour his former team.

Tigres and Necaxa also played out a 1-1 draw in Monterrey. Lucas Lobos grabbed an early lead for the home team, but ex-Tigre Walter Gaitán got a second-half equaliser. A good defensive performance saw Atlas overcome champions Santos 2-1 with goals from Botinelli and Pacheco. Cruz Azul fought back from the early sending-off of César Villaluz and two goals from "cametero" (sweet potato boy) Horacio Peralta to earn a 2-2 draw in Puebla. Vela and Domínguez scored for the visitors.

In an exciting cláscio in Mexico City, Chivas defeated big rivals América 2-1 to put in serious jeopardy the latter's qualification for the play-offs. As there is no "repechaje" this year (I am constantly surprised by the different changes in rules every season) only the two best third-placed teams will go through and América are a clear last in Group 2. Omar "Pinita" Arellano was the two-goal hero for Chivas with Domínguez getting the América strike. Atlante and Tecos will play on 9th November after their match was postponed due to a water-logged pitch.

Pumas Morelos claimed an excellent 2-1 away win against Potros Chetumal, with goals from Pablo Bonells and Javier Cortés. They now top Group 3 on goal difference and are second overall on 29 points behind Correcaminos (30).

Next Up
Pumas play their last qualifying game in the CONCACAF Champions league at home to San Francisco on Wednesday night. Atlante host Motreal Impact on Tuesday, Cruz Azul travel to Saprissa on Wednesday and Santos face Municipal on Thursday.

Friday, October 24, 2008

CONCACAF CL Game 5: Houston 1 - 3 Pumas

Video here.

Pumas qualified for the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a good away win against double MLS Champions Dynamo Houston. The stories of the game were of a dreadful refereeing performance by Nean Brizan of Trinidad, and a wonderful goal by Marco Antonio "Pikolín" Palacios. It was only his third goal in a senior Pumas game, and those who saw his finishing skills when he played up front under Miguel España may blink when reading the phrase "golazo del Pikolín".

Pumas began the game with mostly a second team. Palacios's brother Alejandro was in goal, with Fernando Santana, Orlando Pineda, Luis Fuentes and David Cabrera also from the reserve side. Experience was added from the senior side's bench.

The UNAM side started cagily, allowing Houston to come forward, but the US side's inaccuracy of passing led to a rather scrappy midfield struggle in which neither team had the ascendancy. Pumas were looking to use their speed on the break, and on 17 minutes they had the lead from a quick counter-attack. The ball was played through to Ismael Íñiguez who just as he was going into the area was pushed by Patrick Ianni. There was further contact inside the box and the referee was quick to award a penalty. Whether or not there was any doubt about the award of the kick, Juan Carlos Cacho stepped up and slotted the ball coolly towards the middle of the goal, as Patrick Onstad dived to his right, and that was 1-0 Pumas.

Houston continued to push forward more, this time in search of an equaliser, and Palacios nearly surprised his own brother with an overhit backpass. But Pumas were yet again able to capitalise on the spaces behind the Houston midfield, going two up after the half hour. A quick attack saw Chiapas set Orlando Pineda free down the left, and Fernando Espinoza turned up on the end of his low cross to place the ball neatly into the far corner for the second.

Houston got back into the game towards the end of the first half with their best spell of the match. Pushing forward dynnamically and using their size and strength they made life difficult for the inexperienced Pumas defenders, who nevertheless cut down the spaces and refused to be bullied. However, Houston did pull one back on 38 minutes when Cameron put in a dangerous low cross from the right and Alejandro Palacios made a mess of coming out to allow Jaqua to push the ball past him. And the same player nearly made it 2-2 a couple of minutes later as a long range effort clipped the top of the bar. Half time came at a good moment for Pumas as they were absorbing quite a bit of pressure.

Dynamo came out in the second half clearly determined to dominate Pumas physically, and they were permitted to get away with not only the odd bad tackle but some obvious foul play too. Although there were one or two cases of Pumas protests it was amazing that something more serious did not erupt as the Trinidad official lost control of the game. Jaqua had stamped on Chiapas, Holden made a number of bad tackles, and Robinson tried to headbutt the admittedly irritating Cacho. All of this resulted in one yellow card, for Holden, who was taken off by Dominic Kinnear to possibly avoid him being sent off. Ironically it was Pumas who ended up with five players in the book.

It did not make for a sparkling second half and neither side really played any interesting football, but Pumas's lives were made easier by the one shining moment of an otherwise drab half. Íñiguez played in a low near post corner and Palacios lost his marker racing towards the corner flag. As the ball came to him, he outrageously flicked a volleyed backheel past bemused defenders and amazed colleagues to rifle it into the top corner for Pumas's third. A wonderful piece of skill all the more incredible for the player achieving it. He then ran off to dance the "Jarabe tapatío" (Guadalajara syrup - a traditional Mexican dance) in celebration, later claiming he had done this because of his delight at putting one over on the Northern neighbours.

Although Pumas have only 9 points, their qualification is assured, and Houston must now fight it out with LA Firpo who grabbed a valuable 3-2 away win against San Francisco.

Juan Carlos Cacho (17 mins)(pen) 0-1
Fernando Espinoza (30) 0-2
Nate Jaqua (38) 1-2
Marco Antonio Palacios (69) 1-3

Quite a surprise there were no sendings-off in this one:
Pumas: yellow: Cabrera, Íñiguez, Fuentes, Bravo, Palacios
Houston: yellow: Holden

Player Ratings
A.Palacios 4 - looked nervous, and weak when challenged. At fault for the goal.
Pineda 7 - had an excellent game. A good prospect but now has to displace Velarde.
Palacios 7 - great goal and defended well too under pressure
Fuentes 6 - looks to have a future too as he held his nerve
Santana 5 - did not look out of place but needs to distribute better
Chiapas 6 - some nice touches
Cabrera 5 - has dynamism but lacked precision
Íñiguez 6 - caused problems with his pace, and did well to stand up before being fouled in the box for the penalty
Cacho 5 - he has to keep playing in these games, and the whole squad will benefit if he finds his form
Bravo 6 - is starting to look fitter, and is adjusting better to the pace of the game
Cortés - only on for a few moments

Tuca 6 - good team selection and didn't chase the game too much early on. The team was settled by going ahead.

Elsewhere in Mexico
Both Cruz Azul and Atlante gained 2-0 victories on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Cancún team gained revenge for their defeat at home by winning against Joe Public in Trinidad with goals from Valadez and Pereyra. Cruz Azul struggled but finally overcame bottom team DC United with goals from Vigneri and Zeballos. Two DC United goalkeepers were sent off. Santos Laguna beat FC Tauro 3-0 in a game of four sendings-off (two each side). Christián Benítez got two and Gregorio Torres the third.

Meanwhile Chivas took home a 2-1 first leg advantage from their away fixture against River Plate in the Copa Sudamericana quarter-finals. Despite being under pressure Chivas converted two of their three chances (Omar Arellano and Marco Fabián de la Mora the scorers) and River pulled one back with a last-minute penalty from Uruguayan Sebastián "el loco" Abreu, a player who has played for 7 different Mexican teams.

Next Up
The qualification race is hotting up as Pumas host Indios on Sunday. Other interesting games are Atlante v Tecos (2nd in Group 1 v 1st in Group 2), and the clásico América v Chivas. Pumas Morelos travel to Quintana Roo to meet Potros Chetumal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Game 13: Puebla 0 - 0 Pumas

Video here.

In an insipid and at times dull game, Pumas and Puebla shared an uninspiring 0-0 draw in the Estadio Cuauthémoc on Sunday. Neither side created much threat, and although Pumas were yet again the better team they now have garnered only 2 points out of the last 5 games and have slipped further behind the leaders. Puebla meanwhile will have been happy to keep accumulating points in their battle against relegation.

The only slight surprise in the Pumas line-up was Carlos Humberto González starting ahead of Palacios. Palencia also kept his place ahead of the off-colour Cacho. Pumas old-boy Césareo Victorino started for Puebla.

It is rare to find a game in which chances and drama are so hard to find, but both Pumas and Puebla came out in orderly and rather negative fashion and there really was nothing of note to report during almost the entire first half. The nearest Puebla got to scoring was a through ball which Horacio Peralta couldn't latch on to and Bernal picked the ball off easily. Perlalta then followed through and Bernal fell to the floor spilling the ball. A free kick was awarded but nevertheless it is disconcerting to see Bernal drop the ball every time he is slightly nudged, it may cost a goal at some point.

Alex Diego and Israel Castro gave a good account of themselves in the middle as Pumas dominated possession, but Toledo and Morales had little luck down the flanks, with Morales in particular too often cutting back inside rather than getting in a dangerous cross. Verón and González looked Pumas's best option for a goal from set pieces, as López was muted and Palencia came very deep.

The second half continued as the first with no real opportunities to score for either side, until the 70th minute, when a Pumas breakaway nearly led to the opener. Morales bursting through the middle found himself in a two on one and fed Toledo just inside the area. Faced with only the goalkeeper to beat, the Pumas number 26 hurried his shot and put an excellent chance wide.

Given the stalemate, it was surprising that both managers seemed reluctant to make changes, and it wasn't until ten minutes to go that Palencia made way for Cacho and Íñiguez replaced Toledo on the right. Tuca's changes seemed to have more effect, although a little bit of extra space gave Victorino time for a long range effort which Bernal had to push away.

During the final five minutes Pumas had more chances to take the three points. Íñiguez had time to make an impact and he teed up Cacho for an easy header, after getting nicely to the by-line and pulling back for the diminuitive Mexican. The man with the Tintin quiff then proceeded to head hilariously wide when unmarked with the goal beckoning. Then Íñiguez got through once more after good work from Morales, but López missed his kick completely and Cacho fluffed the rebound.

In the meantime Cacho had almost made up for his bad miss by taking a cross down on his chest and then lobbing only inches over the bar with Oscar Dautt beaten. But it looked like nothing was going to prevent a goalless finish, and this leaves Pumas some work to do in their final five games to make sure of a play-off place.


Pumas: yellow: Velarde, Diego
Puebla: yellow: Peralta, Victorino

Player Ratings
Bernal 5 - nearly cost a goal in the first half with his drop, but made a decent save in the second
Juárez 5 - too anonymous going forward as had little to so at the back
González 6 - is playing well at the moment
Verón 6 - looked calm and played the ball out nicely
Velarde 6 - reasonably positive and had everything covered in defence
Castro 5 - comfortable but not sufficient drive
Diego 6 - covered a lot of ground, now needs to work more on creating opportunities
Morales 6 - coming inside too much but still lively
Toledo 4 - not his day and missed a very good chance
Palencia 5 - worked hard but as usual never looked like scoring
López 5 - his worst game for a while - often had to go wide because Morales was in the middle
Íñiguez 6 - injected some life into an insipid attack
Cacho 5 - got into decent positions but a dreadfully bad header to miss a good chance

Tuca 4 - he has to take the rap for a poor performance. Being better than a bad team is no consolation, and did little to change things until too late.

Elsewhere in Mexico
Thankfully there was more excitement elsewhere, especially in the Estadio 3 de Marzo, as Tecos trounced leaders San Luis 5-2. A brace from Victor Piríz for San Luis could not prevent Tecos consolidating first place in the so-called "Group of Death" (Group 2). Morelia boosted their chances in the same group by beating Cruz Azul in Mexico City 2-0, with goals from Romero and Droguett. América played out a dull 0-0 in Ciudad Juárez against Indios, while Necaxa's grim run continues as they lost 1-0 at home to Atlas.

Atlante went down 1-0 at Chivas with a toothless attack lacking Pereyra and Maldonado, Sergio Santana scoring for the home team. Meanwhile 20 year-old Francisco Acuña made a name for himself as he scored and made a telling all-round contribution as Tigres convincingly beat Monterrey 4-1. Héctor Mancilla grabbed two for Toluca as they saw off Pachuca 3-0 in the Bombonera, while a Christián Benítez goal was the difference in Torreón as Santos edged past Jaguares 1-0.

Atlante and Santos top Group One, Tecos and Morelia Group Two (although this group is tight) and San Luis and Tigres Group Three. For many teams there is still all to play for in the last four games (or in some cases five) as there are ten play-off places, six direct and four into "repesca".

Javier Cortés and Eduardo Herrera got the goals as Pumas Morelos defeated Jaguares Tapachula and move to second place in Group 3 of Primera A.

Next Up
Pumas travel to Dynamo Houston on Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions League. Cruz Azul receive D.C. Untited, and Atlante travel to Trinidad to play Joe Public. Santos play Tauro FC in Torreón. Chivas face River Plate in Buenos Aires in the quarter final of the Copa Sudamericana.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Game 12: Pumas 0 - 2 Cruz Azul

Video here.

Pumas slipped further down the table after another defeat, this time at home to local rivals Cruz Azul. The reverse sees them having gained only one point in four games, including only one goal. Despite having much of the play and arguably being the better side, Pumas were unable to take their chances and two defensive errors, as against Atlante, were their undoing.

Darío Verón and Dante López were absent on international duty with Paraguay so Pumas started with Cacho and González, giving them their first all-Mexican line-up for several years. Cruz Azul started without Gerardo Torrado, in action for Mexico, but did boast ex-Pumas Joaquin Beltrán and Jaime Lozano.

The first few minutes of the game were very open as both sides pushed forward with purpose, keen to make a good impression early on after being unable to win their last three. Morales was making inroads down the left, and Toledo was mobile giving Pumas the edge, and Palencia went close with a header. Then Carlos Humberto González cleverly worked free of his marker at a free kick but put the header just wide. At the other end Bernal had to be alert to stop a strong Zeballos header and the veteran goalkeeper clasped it at the second attempt.

Pumas continued to control the ball and looked comfortable dealing with Cruz Azul counter-attacks, but Beltrán was in fine form in the "cementeros" defence and Toledo had a snap-shot inside the area well saved by Gutiérrez, while Cacho showed good movement and also went close. Chiapas and Castro were distributing well, González looked in good form at the back, and both wingers looked strong. It looked only a matter of time before Pumas would score. And it looked like Palencia had done just that just before half time as he swivelled deep in the area to shoot firmly at goal, but the young Cruz Azul keeper was alert and made a good save to push the ball for a corner.

In the second half Pumas continued to have the upper hand, but still could not score, the closest they came being a lovely counter-attack which ended with Cacho feeding Morales who pushed narrowly wide as he attempted to chip the advancing Gutiérrez. Toledo had also threatened with a well struck shot from the edge of the area which flew just wide.

It was mystifying with this advantage that Tuca should withdraw the dangerous Morales for Íñiguez who came onto his unfavoured left side. The team suddenly lacked balance and the pattern of the game changed. Cruz Azul looked more confident in the middle, but it was an unfortunate slip by Palacios who got caught narrowly out of position which let in Villaluz to feed Zeballos on the left, and he pushed the ball past Bernal for the lead.

Again Tuca reacted in a strange way, bringing on a subdued Orlando Pineda who had played two days before and lacked big-match experience, and then bringing off right-back Juárez for Martín Bravo. The team structure was all over the place by then, and it was little surprise when Cruz Azul sealed victory five minutes from time when two of their substitues combined. Alejandro Vela (brother of Carlos) slipped down the left in the channel left free by Juárez's withdrawal and crossed accurately for Orozco to head powerfully into the net.

So that was that. Pumas drop back to fourth in Group 2, and seventh overall, while Cruz Azul go to the top of the same group.

Pablo Zeballos (69 minutes) 0-1
Javier Orozco (86) 0-2

Pumas: yellow: Chiapas, Juárez, Palacios
Cruz Azul: yellow: Héctor Gutiérrez, Viades, Beltrán

Player Ratings
Bernal 6 - could do nothing much about the goals and released his players quickly when he could
Juárez 6 - looked good going forward but is always getting carded
Palacios 6 - an excellent game and then he falls over and gives away the goal
González 6 - his best game for a long time, and then he wandered into no man's land and gave Orozco a free header for the second
Velarde 7 - lively and composed in defence - Cruz Azul did nothing down the right
Castro 6 - a decent ball-winning stint
Chiapas 6 - a good solid game with some nice passes and crosses
Morales 6 - not always precise but often difficult to deal with
Toledo 7 - a constant danger on the right, and brought the ball up well in the middle too
Cacho 5 - lots of movement but he needs to score, and get into more scoring positions
Palencia 6 - worked hard but no goal
Íñiguez 5 - ineffective on the left and drifted out of the gqame after that
Pineda 4 - sorry to have to say this but looked completely lost
Bravo 5 - added nothing

Tuca 4 - dreadful substitutions - the first merely for the sake of it then the others to desperately try and rescue things. Why is it always necessary to make all three changes? Couldn't Íñiguez have come on on the right?

Elsewhere in Mexico
Leaders San Luis played out an interesting 0-0 draw at home to Chivas. "El Bofo" Bautista scored two as Jaguares thrashed under-pressure Necaxa 4-0 in Tuxtla. A drab game saw Tigres overcome Tecos 1-0 in Monterrey with the goal coming from "El Pájaro" Aguilar. Atlas and Monterrey played out a muddy 0-0 in Guadalajara, although the hosts were aggrieved not to have had a penalty.

In a strange match in Cancún, Indios de Ciudad Juárez pulled back from two behind to draw 3-3 against Atlante for whom Gabriel Pereyra was sent off. Pereyra himself had got two for the home side while Ricardo Esqueda got a brace for Indios. Two goals from Andrés Mendoza helped Morelia overcome Toluca 3-2 in Michoacán, while Santos went down 2-0 at Pachuca after they had two goals disallowed for dubious offsides. Alfredo "el chango" Moreno got the lead for América at home to Puebla then got himself sent off before Fabiano Pereira equalised with three minutes left as it finished 1-1.

Atlante (23pts) comfortably lead Group 1 from Santos (16), Cruz Azul (19) top Group 2 from Tecos (18) and San Luis (24) remain top overall and in Group 3, with Tigres (18) in second. Pumas are 4th in Group 2 with 17 points.

Pumas Morelos notched up a 3-0 away win in Toluca against Atlético Mexiquense, with goals from Salvador Medina, José Aguilar and José Tovar.

A dreadful performance in Kingston saw Mexico lose 1-0 to Jamaica as they got involved in a physical encounter on Wednesday. Stoke City's Ricardo Fuller got the goal.

World News
Ex-Puma Joaquin Botero (Pumas 2003-2006) scored twice as Bolivia beat Peru 3-0, thus becoming the top scorer in his country's history as well as the leading scorer in the South American qualifiers with 5 goals. A hard-working player with a low profile, he struggled to make an impression in Mexico scoring only 14 goals in 72 games despite some good performances. Botero is now with Bolivar in his native Bolivia.

Next Up
Pumas travel to Puebla next weekend. There is no midweek fixture because of internationals. Mexico travel to Canada in their latest World Cup qualifying fixture. Pumas Morelos host Jaguares.