Pumas busted the ghosts of past Liguillas by getting a 3-1 away victory against arch-nemesis America, booking their ticket to the semifinals of the Apertura 2021. America came in as the regular season leaders and with a streak of wins against Pumas in the Liguilla, including an embarrassing 6-1 victory in Estadio Azteca last time they played in the Liguilla semifinals of the Apertura 2018. It came to an end however with a solid victory from an inspired Pumas team that came back after trailing 1-0. Pumas will now go to the semifinals to face Atlas, while America fans will have to ask questions after bowing out for a second straight season in the quarterfinals.
The fist half started with Pumas coming out with Washington Corozo taking the place of Diogo de Oliveira in the starting eleven. America had a change in benching Federico Viñas for Henry Martin. A good shot from outside the area from Sebastian Saucedo came close but it went just wide. Then after that Pumas lost an incredible ball from Arturo Ortiz, and Roger Martinez got into the area and was brought down by Erik Lira. The referee gave the penalty kick in a play that was dubious, but the mistake from Arturo Ortiz was incredible. Emanuel Aguilera took the PK and with a well placed right footed shot past Pumas goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, gave them the 1-0 lead. Pumas almost responded immediately with Corozo getting into the area, but his shot went straight into America’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s arms. A long ball into the area found Martin, who took a shot that was blocked by Talavera. Off a corner kick, Juan Ignacio Dinenno got a header that hit the post and then he was able to get to the rebound, but his second header also hit the post. Pumas kept pressuring and a scramble could have led to a chance but America’s defense, was able to clear the ball. A shot from Mauro Lainez forced Talavera to make a save. Then Alan Mozo got a great left footed cross into the area that was just out of reach by Corozo’s foot but Ochoa also didn’t get to it and the ball went into the net for the 1-1. It was a great hit that placed Pumas back into the match. Replays showed that Corozo might have gotten a touch, although it really looked like the goal should have gone to Mozo. America tried to respond, but Pumas was looking better overall. Then after a great pass from Dinenno found Mozo, he made a great run and got a good cross that Corozo this time left no doubt if he touched, getting a solid header past Ochoa for the 2-1 lead. Pumas had taken the lead on the back of the duo of Mozo and Corozo. America tried to respond but they wouldn’t and at halftime, Pumas would go on with the momentum and the lead.
The second half started with the news that Corozo was given the goal that should have gone to Mozo, as both teams went on to fight what was possibly their final 45 minutes of the season. America sought to control possession as they looked for the tie that would give them the ticket to the semifinals. America subbed out Richard Sanchez for Sebastian Cordova. Pumas had a chance when a pass by Saucedo found Efrain Velarde in the area, but his right footed shot was blocked by an America defender. America almost had a great chance when Martin lowered the ball for Roger Martinez, but Pumas’ defense was able to clear the ball. A minute later Cordova sent a cross into the area that Henry Martin hit for a great bicycle kick goal, but it was ruled to be offside. America claimed that it was deflected by a Pumas defender, but Martin had been offside since the cross came from Cordova. Saucedo then got off a shot that went just wide. It would be his last play, as he was subbed out for Higor Meritao just seconds after his shot. Pumas came close again off a corner kick when Ortiz got a free header, but it went wide in a play where he should have done better. Later a good low cross from Dinenno should have found Favio Alvarez, but he whiffed on the shot in another mistake. America then subbed out Jorge Sanchez and Mauro Lainez for Federico Viñas and Miguel Layun. Pumas countered by subbing out Favio Alvarez for Jeronimo Rodriguez. A cross into the area could have been headed by Martin, but he missed and it was controlled by Talavera. Then another great cross from Alan Mozo found a wide open Higor Meritao, who had slipped past America’s defense to get a header past Ochoa for the 3-1 lead. It was Meritao’s first goal for Pumas after he had scored in the first leg, but his goal had correctly been ruled as offside. His first goal seemed to be historic, as it looked like it would kill the match and give Pumas their ticket to the next round. Efrain Velarde then was injured and he had to be subbed out for Alek Alvarez. Pumas also subbed out Leonel Lopez for Jose Galindo. America subbed out Alvaro Fidalgo for Nicolas Benedetti. America tried to get those two goals, but Pumas’ defense was able to handle them and they got their historic victory over their main rival to get back to the semifinals for the first time since the last Apertura.
Pumas ended a number of streaks with Saturday’s win. It ended America’s coach Santiago Solari’s undefeated record in Estadio Azteca. They also had their first victory over America in Estadio Azteca since 2015. It was also the first series that Pumas defeated America in since their last win came in the first leg of the 2015 Apertura. Although America won the return leg, the 3-1 score wasn’t enough to get through and Pumas got to play the final in which they lost to Tigres in a penalty kick shootout. Pumas got a deserved win after another highlight of a performance, although they will have a tough hurdle against Atlas in the semifinals. Yet right now, they are probably the most inspired team in Liga MX and the one who is playing better although Atlas already stopped a Monterrey team that came into the series after a 4-1 win against Cruz Azul at the Azteca, and Pumas has a less potent squad than Monterrey. Meanwhile, America fans are livid that they wasted a season where they lead for most of it and ended in first place, but once again is over after the quarterfinals. It makes it worse that it was a team like Pumas, who came in struggling financially and are their intra-city rivals. There are rumors that there might be big changes, as the loss brings a lot of embarrassment to owners Televisa. If Solari remains as coach, he might have a very short leash after another disappointing Liguilla performance from the Argentinean coach. Pumas meanwhile are hoping that this is just the start of the end of their 10 year run without a Liga MX title.