Pumas bounced back in heroic fashion to qualify to the repechaje with a 4-3 victory over Cruz Azul. Once again a match with Cruz Azul gave Pumas fan enormous joy, as Pumas came back from trailing 3-1 at halftime to get a 4-3 victory over their rivals, booking their ticket to the Liguilla. Brazilian Diogo de Oliveira came in as a substitute and gave a key performance, being critical in all three goals and saving Coach Andres Lillini and Pumas from failing to qualify to the repechaje for consecutive seasons. In the repechaje, Cruz Azul will now play against Monterrey while Pumas will face Toluca even without knowing the results from the final regular season match between Santos and Atletico San Luis.
The first half started with a solid Pumas squad knowing that they needed the win or they were eliminated, while Cruz Azul came in with a solid lineup although knowing that they really had little room to maneuver since they were qualified to the repechaje but not the Liguilla. Pumas came out strong on the attack and it paid off. Off a corner kick, five minutes in, a wide open Arturo Ortiz jumped and got a strong header past Cruz Azul’s keeper Jesus Corona for the 1-0 lead. Pumas kept at it and from outside the area, Jeronimo Rodriguez got a shot off that went just wide. Pumas paid for it, because moments later a cross into the area was cleared by a Pumas defender right into the path of Roberto Alvarado, who got off a left footed shot past Pumas’ goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera for the 1-1 tie. Pumas was really hurt by the goal, and Cruz Azul took advantage of it. After a great pass, Santiago Gimenez got into the area and got off a great shot that Talavera saved. Incredibly the rebound fell to Rodriguez, but he failed too see Roberto Alvarado was coming from behind to get to the ball, and Alvarado headed it past Talavera for the 2-1 lead. It was an embarrassing mistake from Rodriguez, who coming in was one of the most questioned players and was doing everything to prove his critics right. After a clash, Sebastian Saucedo and Yoshimar Yotun needed medical attention. Pumas tried to get back on the offense, but unlike in the early minutes, they were having trouble and Cruz Azul looked more dangerous with their counters. Cruz Azul came close again off of a corner kick when Alvarado almost connected with another header. Cruz Azul then made Pumas pay once again with a cross into the area and a terrible defensive work from Rodriguez against Jose Martinez, allowing him a pass that Roberto Alvarado would score from close range past Talavera to make it 3-1. Cruz Azul then had another chance again after a cross into the area was headed wide by Gimenez.
The second half started with Pumas subbing out Higor Meritao and Sebastian Saucedo for Washington Corozo and Diogo de Oliveira. It paid off almost immediately when Diogo got his head onto the ball in the area and Favio Alvarez scored off of a left footed volley past Corona to make it 3-2. Pumas kept at it, and after Corozo lowered a ball in the area the ball was cleared off the line twice by Rafael Baca, after his first clearance bounced off Juan Ignacio Dinenno. Minutes later, Alvarez came close with a shot from outside the area that went wide. Cruz Azul subbed out Yoshimar Yotun and Ignacio Rivera for Alexis Peña and Brayan Angulo. After a great run and a pass into the area, Diogo got to the ball and got off a strong right footed shot past Corona to draw it level at 3-3. Pumas had another good chance when off a counter they had a three-on-three but Dinenno inexplicably chose to shoot and sent it well wide. It looked like Pumas had scored the fourth when a pass into the area and was deflected by a Cruz Azul attacker into the path of Favio Alvarez, who looked to have backheeled the ball into Dinenno, who scored past Corona. Unfortunately though Alvarez’ backheel pass had placed Dinenno on an offside position and although they went to VAR to check if he had touched the ball, it was correctly ruled to be offside. Cruz Azul subbed out Santiago Gimenez and Roberto Alvarado for Lucas Passerini and Luis Angel Mendoza. It would almost pay off for them when after losing a ball, it allowed for a three-on-one but Passerini’s shot was saved by Talavera. Pumas then responded with a good counter attack that was finished with a shot by Corozo that forced a great save by Corona. Pumas subbed out Jeronimo Rodriguez (after a terrible match) and Leonel Lopez for Alek Alvarez and Cristian Battocchio. Pumas continued as they had the momentum, but time was running out for them. Then after a great run started by Diogo, Pumas had another great counter and then a shot by Alvarez was deflected by Corona right into the path of Diogo, who hit a right footed shot into the post and it went into the net for the 4-3 lead, Cruz Azul almost answered after a longball into the area fell to a Cruz Azul attacker who got off a shot that Talavera brilliantly saved. Later the play was ruled to be offside. Pumas subbed out Favio Alvarez for Ricardo Galindo. Cruz Azul continued to look for the tie as Pumas tried to counter, and with great play they were able to hold on and complete the exciting victory to take their place in the repechaje.
Pumas displayed all of their highs and lows in 90 minutes. A first half filled with defensive mistakes and a terrible performance from Jeronimo Rodriguez exposed a team that had done a terrible job on defense, especially from the left side. Then a very spirited Pumas team took the momentum from an early goal, but more importantly perhaps they got a great performance from Diogo de Oliveira to get their ticket to the repechaje. Pumas will have a tough task ahead, but they at least gave their fans a great performance and continued to show that the team had turned things around somewhat from a disastrous campaign that changed with 4 wins out of their last 6 games. On the other hand, Cruz Azul will have the terrible momentum hit of losing to their rivals once again, and in a performance that awoke the ghosts from their last loss in Olimpico Universitario, a 4-0 semifinal loss in the 2020 Apertura that eliminated them after a 4-0 win in the first leg. Cruz Azul will now face a tough rival in the repechaje in Monterrey, who not only did they eliminate them in the Semifinals CONCACAF Champions League but they will face the match with no fans after getting a ban for their fans doing the infamous chant in their last home game against Leon. Pumas meanwhile will hope to build against a Toluca side that has slowed down a lot and haven’t won since September.