Sunday's results will determine which two teams advance to the Clausura 2011 Liguilla finals. It will be judgment day for Chivas and Morelia, as both teams need wins in order to keep their championship dreams alive. Chivas will fight for a victory on the road against Pumas, after a 1-1 draw between the teams in the first leg. Morelia must dig out of their 0-2 first leg hole and win by a two-goal margin on Sunday evening at Estadio Morelos.
Pumas UNAM vs. Chivas Guadalajara, Sunday 1pm est on Telemundo (Pumas 1-1 Chivas, aggregate)
You could argue that Chivas were both lucky and unlucky in their first leg draw at home against Pumas on Thursday night. They were certainly unlucky when it came to referee Paul Delgadillo's decision to hand Hector Reynoso a straight red card for dissent in the first half. It was an indefensible call by Delgadillo, the kind of decision you see from a referee determined to insert himself into the game's storyline. Reynoso's dismissal not only impacted Chivas on Thursday, but the team must now play on Sunday without their team captain.
At the same time, Chivas were also a bit lucky to escape with the draw. In the 89th minute, a long distance shot from Omar Arellano was completely misjudged by Pumas goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios, gifting Chivas the late equalizer. Arellano's goal kept Pumas from earning their first win against Chivas in Guadalajara in 29 years. More importantly, the goal also gives Chivas a glimmer of hope in Sunday's second leg.
The two teams come back to Mexico City tied at 1-1, where as the higher-seeded team all Pumas need is a draw to advance to the final. Not a bad position for the home team to be in. For Chivas, things will be much more difficult. Playing in the intimidating road environment of Estadio Olimpico, Chivas must win outright in order to move on.
That task becomes all the more challenging without their captain and key central defender Reynoso on the field. It's a tough blow for a defensive unit already missing the injured Jonny Magallon. Kristian Alvarez, who should be filling in for Reynoso on Sunday, is a great young player. But in a Liguilla semifinal match on the road, in a must-win situation, you really want a veteran like Reynoso backing you up.
Pumas have a few personnel issues of their own. Their concerns will be in the midfield, where they must deal with the suspension of David Cabrerra (also sent off in the first leg), and the ongoing absence of the injured Leandro Augusto.
It will be an extremely tough task for Chivas, but Pumas are not unbeatable at home. They did drop their final game of the regular season to America 0-2 at Estadio Olimpico. But the playoffs are a different story -- ask Monterrey how tough Pumas are at home. Last weekend, after falling behind 1-3 in the first leg at Monterrey, Pumas battled back for a decisive 2-0 home win to advance to the semifinals. If you take out that loss to America, Pumas have conceded just two total goals in their last six home games. One of those goals came against Chivas in a 1-1 draw back in February. Chivas played them tough on that day, but on Sunday a draw won't be enough.
Key for Chivas will be their counter attack, which traditionally provides the team with its best scoring chances. In the first leg, the Chivas attacking players had trouble finding any space against the Pumas defense. Setting Marco Fabian and Omar Arellano free on counter attacks, where they should have more room to operate, becomes increasingly important. The Pumas defense is one of the best in the league, but Fabian and Arellano have the ability to break them down in space. No matter what form they take, Chivas must find a way to create scoring chances on Sunday, as otherwise their season will come to a disappointing end.
Monarcas Morelia vs. Cruz Azul, Sunday 9pm est on TV Azteca (Morelia 0-2 Cruz Azul, aggregate)
The semifinal round concludes on Sunday night in Morelia, where the Monarcas look to battle back from an 0-2 deficit against Cruz Azul. Morelia will find it hard to play much worse than they did on Thursday night, where they were dominated for much of the match at Estadio Azul. Monarcas also didn't do themselves any favors in the loss. The first Cruz Azul score came on a terrible goalkeeping error from Federico Vilar, who mishandled a free kick by Chaco Gimenez and let the ball pass through his hands and over the goalline.
There's no question the win was a deserved one for Cruz Azul, though. La Maquina attacked all night, with their second score coming in first half stoppage time. In an excellent display of teamwork, Adrian Cortes found Gimenez, who headed the ball to striker Emanuel Villa for the goal. As a whole, it was one of the best all-around games from Cruz Azul this season. One big reason was the return of Gerardo Torrado, whose presence helped Cruz Azul dominate play in the midfield. Torrado went the full 90 minutes for the first time since April 9th. Also of note was the play of Javier Aquino on the wing, who helped keep the pressure on the Morelia defense for most of the match. The Cruz Azul backline was also up to the task, earning a shutout against the top scoring team in Mexico.
For Morelia to turn things around on Sunday, they will need much better play from the midfield. Unless they can do a better job limiting Cruz Azul possession, things won't improve. Cruz Azul certainly can't relax too much, even with a two goal aggregate advantage. Morelia will come out looking to press forward, and they have more than enough goal scorers to be effective. Rafael Marquez Lugo, Elias Hernandez, and Joao Rojas are all dangerous attacking weapons. We also may see the return of Miguel Sabah to the starting lineup. Sabah came on as a sub in the first leg, but has been limited by injury and hasn't started in Morelia's last three games. If Cruz Azul can withstand the inevitable early pressure, they will put themselves in great position to move on.
Any result no worse than a one goal loss and Cruz Azul will advance to their fourth finals appearance in the last seven seasons. I don't need to remind you how those previous appearances turned out. If Cruz Azul can get the job done on Sunday, the club will be one step closer to shedding their unfortunate label as eternal bridesmaids.