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Pumas struggle to clinch Liguilla spot

Pumas tied Queretaro after a disappointing performance to book their ticket to the Liguilla

Pumas’ team and fans sing and salute the University’s anthem prior to the Pumas/Queretaro game.
Rafael Hernandez

Pumas played a horrific second half but did just enough to gain a 1-1 draw against Queretaro and clinch the final Liguilla spot. Pumas only needed a draw to get the spot but looked set to get all three points after dominating the first half and taking a 1-0 lead. The game had a 180 turn and Pumas were lucky to be able to hold on, as Queretaro took complete control of the game and got the equalizer even after missing a penalty kick. The tie gave Pumas the seventh spot and will now have the team face rivals America in the Liguilla, something the crowd at Estadio Olimpico Universitario seemed to cherish.

Pumas had everything going for them coming into Sunday. Not only had they looked to have turn the corner after consecutive wins against Puebla and Santo, but results on Saturday had benefited the team. Pachuca’s draw at home against Atlas meant that a tie would give Pumas the Liguilla spot, as they faced an already eliminated Queretaro.

The game started like most people expected, with Pumas having the early chances. Pablo Barrera missed a great opportunity by taking too much time to shoot, and later, Jesus Gallardo went close from a header.

Luis Fuentes came close with a long range shot until finally Matias Alustiza opened the scoring. After a pass sent to forward Nico Castillo got deflected right to Alustiza, he sent the long range low shot through the hands of keeper Tiago Volpi. While Volpi is one of Liga MX’s best keepers, he definitely was at fault for the goal.

Pumas then lowered their pace and looked less dangerous than before, although they still dominated the match. On the other hand, it seemed Queretaro didn’t create a single dangerous opportunity to score.

The second half started and it’s not known what was said by Queretaro’s coach Luis Fernando Tena or by Pumas’ coach David Patiño but the game changed completely. Queretaro took control of the game and created the best opportunities. Erbin Trejo came on for Edgar Benitez and the move gave Queretaro the upswing they needed. Pumas’ Goalkeeper Alfredo Salvidar had to make a diving save from an Edson Puch header and then later looked helplessly as a Diego Novarretti shot hit the post.

The game almost looked to be leveled when Puch went down in the box for a penalty. Instant replays showed it was a terrible call as it was Puch who initiated the contact. Puch took it himself and missed it terribly, sending it straight into the keeper after a failed “Panenka”.

To counter Queretaro’s move, Patiño incredibly chose to sit back and took out the offensive Gallardo for midfielder David Cabrera. The move seemed to be a shift to once against sit back, something Patiño has been accused of a lot by Pumas’ fans. The move didn’t work and a cross by Trejo ended up hitting the left post and entering to tie the game.

With the game 1-1, Pumas was now back to the seventh spot but a loss would eliminate the team. Patiño took out Alustiza for defender Alan Mendoza and Castillo was the lone attacker (while having a terrible game for the whole 90 minutes) as Pumas sat back and held on for the 1-1 tie.

Pumas was able to accomplish their goal of getting to the Liguilla but it was through the backdoor. Pumas played an awful second half, and once again, coach Patiño left a lot to be desired. The total lack of reaction and the constant nervousness the team has shown all season was once again present. While it’s true that it was the safer chance to get at least a tie, it seemed like Pumas was looking to remain at seventh place to face America and not Monterrey, who look to have the better squad. Still, it’s a terrible look for a Liguilla-bound team like Pumas to be waiting for the final whistle at home against a “weaker” team like Queretaro. Fans in the stadium seemed very happy to be facing America, who despite struggling in recent times (eliminated clearly by Toronto in the Champions League and losing badly at Puebla) should still be favored. Plus, maybe Pumas fans have forgotten that America’s Coach Miguel Herrera seems to have Pumas’ number plus. At the end, a win would be a godsend and great opportunity for the team to bounce back. But it looks like the harder fall might be the most logical outcome.