Fan of Cruz Azul, used under creative commons license. - User israelvb on Flickr
Javier Cortes, Alejandro Palacios and Emmanuel Herrera starred for UNAM Pumas as they earned a point at Estadio Azul. Cruz Azul legend Gerardo Torrado was a hero and a goat for his team, winning a penalty and earning a red card.
In an exciting match in Mexico City, serving as a bit of an undercard to Saturday night's huge Tijuana - America battle, Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM drew 1-1. Both goals came in the first half, and Pumas did well to hang on for a point. Late in the match, the Blue Machine had a man sent off, and they'll be without club icon Gerardo Torrado for a few matches as a result.
Things were lively in the opening minutes before both teams had time to settle in, with Pumas generating a decent chance on a set piece in second minute and Mariano Pavone failing to turn in a ball form Torrado two minutes later. The chances went away as both teams settled down, but the game was sparked back to life in the 21st minute when Torrado was chopped down in the box by Marco Antonio Palacios. Mariano Pavone stepped up and drilled past Marco's little brother to give the Blue Machine an early lead.
A wonderful fast counter fired the visitors right back into the match in first half stoppage time. Javier Cortes, the brilliant youngster whose El Tri opportunities have diminished as Pumas have declined in Liga MX, showed exactly why he earned five Mexico caps in 2012. He played a ridiculous long ball over the top of the Cruz Azul defense from inside his own half, which Nestor Araujo misjudged. It floated over his head to Emmanuel Herrera, who let the ball bounce before smoking a half-volley past Jose Corona at the far post.
Teofilo Gutierrez was involved in an argument with Pumas players at the end of the first half, and he didn't come out after the halftime break. He was replaced by Alejandro Castro, suggesting that the move might have been a purely tactical one, but it may have also been a case of Guillermo Vázquez recognizing a situation where his hotheaded star striker had the potential to pick up a booking or two if he played in the second half.
The second half got off to a roaring start, with both teams generating early chances. Martin Romagnoli made a brilliant play in the 50th minute when he got onto the line to support Alejandro Palacios on a corner and blocked a Pavone shot that had beaten 'Pikolin II'. Two minutes later, Cortes had a good chance on the other end, but put his shot right into the arms of Corona.
Cruz Azul almost went ahead in the 73rd minute, when Pikolin II made an absolutely brilliant save to keep the score tied. Gerardo Flores nearly scored on a corner when he rose above the Pumas defense to direct a brilliant header to the far post, but Palacios reacted quickly to get across his goal and tip the ball wide of the upright.
Five minutes later, the Blue Machine narrowly avoided what would have been an own goal for the ages. An attempted clearance by Castro smacked off of his own teammate in the penalty area, floated over the head of Corona and struck the crossbar. The rebound fell to Herrera, but he was unable to finish.
Torrado mucked things up in the 90th minute, going into a dangerous challenge with Romagnoli for which he was shown a red card and did much more damage to himself than the man he tackled. Cruz Azul didn't have to hold on with 10 men for long, however, and had no problem keeping a draw.
Both teams will likely walk away from this match seeing it as a solid point. Cruz Azul didn't play their best, even if they had more chances to score, and will be happy that they're still firmly in Liguilla places. Pumas need to start winning games sooner rather than later, but a draw away to Cruz Azul is nothing to scoff at.