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Saldivar penalty save gives Pumas draw over América in Semifinal First Leg

Pumas UNAM v America - Playoffs Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Alfredo Saldivar denied Club América a crucial lead over Pumas UNAM in their Liguilla Semifinal showdown, saving a second half penalty as Águilas and Universitarios finished 1-1 on Thursday.

The showdown between Mexico City rivals was billed as the highlight of the Semifinals stage, with both teams facing off in a Liguilla for a sixth time since 1996.

América looked the most menacing in the opening stages, with a shot from Oribe Peralta coming just inches off of Saldivar’s goal.

After giving Pumas’s defense a warning moments earlier, 18-year-old Diego Lainez opened the scoring for Las Águilas. Lainez collected Paul Aguilar’s pass on the right-hand side before firing the ball past Saldivar’s near post to give the visitors the lead.

Lainez’s presence would be felt again in the 41st minute when he set a perfect diagonal pass for Paul Aguilar, who twice was denied by the Pumas defense.

At the restart, Pumas’s possession numbers started trending up, and they managed to equalize just five minutes in when Alan Mozo spotted Martin Rodriguez unmarked inside the penalty box to score the 1-1.

In the 66th minute, Pumas came close to taking the lead. A David Cabrera through ball found Felipe Mora with just the goalkeeper to beat, but Agustin Marchesin made a brilliant save to keep the score leveled.

América had not tested Alfredo Saldivar in all of the second half, but with close to 15 minutes to go in the match, VAR had to be used and a penalty was called in favor of Las Águilas following a handball inside the box. Roger Martinez stepped up to take but had his penalty saved by Saldivar.

Pumas soon looked to punish América for their mistake, and from a perfectly controlled cross by Carlos Gonzalez, the Paraguayan rattled the woodwork.

However, América also had their chance to retake the lead when substitute Andres Ibarguen cut inside the from the left wing and brought a great one-handed save from Saldivar.

At the end, América were unable to hold on to their lead but will take an away goal advantage to the Estadio Azteca for the second leg.