FC Juarez finished the regular season with a 3-1 victory yesterday night over Pumas that allowed them to clinch a postseason spot thanks to both San Luis and Necaxa losses earlier today. Juarez got a solid win despite Pumas doing enough to garner at least a tie, but the blue and gold came up with an underwhelming performance yet again that gifted the northern team the victory. Juarez can now only finish as low as 12th depending on Mazatlán’s result tomorrow. Pumas end their 2022 with a loss and will question whether head coach Andres Lillini will keep his job after this failure of a season.
Pumas started the match without the injured Dani Alves but with a very offensive lineup nonetheless in their final game of 2022. Juarez came out with their best lineup as they tried for a miracle to qualify to the post season. Three minutes into the match, a right-footed shot from Jesus Dueñas was terribly handled by Pumas Goalkeeper Julio Gonzalez, and the ball went in for a 1-0. Gonzalez, who had a horrific season and was key in Pumas not qualifying, picked the worst time to display his low level of play as he faced the team that now has ex-Pumas keeper Alfredo Talavera. A left-footed shot from Eduardo Salvio went just wide. A cross into the area was headed from close range by Fernando Arce Jr., but this time Gonzalez came up with a big save. Another left-footed shot from Salvio would once again come close to going in. After a good pass, Juan Ignacio Dinenno tried to score with a bicycle kick but it went wide. A left-footed shot from Dinenno in the area was deflected by Talavera, but Diogo de Olivera easily scored into the empty net for the 1-1. In the play, Emiliano Velazquez slid and suffered a bad leg injury after his feet got stuck in the ground. He would have to be subbed out immediately and sent to the hospital while Alejando Arribas came in for him. Dinenno got off a right-footed shot that hit the post. Then after a great combination play, Gabriel Fernandez fired a right-footer in the area past Gonzalez for the 2-1. A long cross into the area was lowered by Diogo, but his shot was saved by Talavera. The halftime whistle blew as Juarez looked to be giving the final step toward the Repechaje.
The second half started with Pumas subbing out Leonel Lopez for Higor Meritao. A great shot from Salvio forced Talavera to make a great save. Later, a great cross found a wide open Dinenno, but his header was saved by Talavera’s great placement. Juarez subbed out Darwin Machis and Francisco Nervaez for Mauro Lainez and Ventura Alvarado. A left-footed shot from Meritao went just wide. Pumas subbed out Cesar Huerta and Jose Caicedo for Jorge Ruvalcaba and Gustavo del Prete. After some confusion from Pumas’ defense, Fernandez fired off a shot in the area that Gonzalez stopped. Off a free kick, the ball was headed by Dinenno to Salvio, who had a volley from close range going wide in a bad miss. Pumas had gained control of possession as they looked for that tying goal. After a cross into the area, Ruvalcaba came close to scoring but his close range shot was deflected by a defender. Juarez subbed out Denzell Garcia for Matias Garcia. Off a free kick, Salvio got off a good shot but Talavera easily saved it. Pumas subbed out Efrain Velarde and Pablo Bennevendo for Carlos Gutierrez and Jeronimo Rodriguez. The blue and gold kept trying, and in an incredible play, Nicolas Freire was fouled and then protested until he got a yellow card. That didn’t stop him, earning him his second yellow. Freire, another of the biggest busts of the tournament, ended the season costing the team greatly. Then, after a counter attack, Alan Medina got a 1 vs 1 and easily got his shot past Gonzalez for the 3-1, settling the game and ultimately a postseason spot.
Pumas have finally ended a very disappointing season. While many sensationalist journalists blamed the signing of Dani Alves, totally ignorant of the fact the team was already playing at a low level before his arrival, he missed the match because of injury, but the problems still came up. Goalkeeper Julio Gonzalez made a terrible mistake three minutes in, which was a constant, especially late in the season. His mistakes in games like the Toluca and Cruz Azul ones gave away key points that would have surely made a difference. Captain Nicolas Freire had a disappointing season as well and his foolish red card for protesting killed the match after Pumas were pressing to get the tie. Freire was forced to captain the defense, especially with the injury to Arturo Ortiz that caused him to miss games, and he certainly failed at that. Gustavo del Prete came in and once again had a game where he did nothing. Del Prete, who was supposed to be the big signing before Pumas lucked out in getting Eduardo Salvio and Dani Alves, was the youngest of the signings and the biggest bust, with only 1 goal and showing a lot less than that of both veteran players. Coach Andres Lillini might have his job in jeopardy after such a season, especially after getting his key signings and failing to the point where they came into the final matchday as 1 of only 3 teams out of the postseason. On the other hand, FC Juarez did better and have finally made it into the postseason. They won’t be favored against any team, but it would be their first and coach Hernan Cristante looks to have his team clicking at the right time for a good possibility, and maybe they can surprise. Should they not, however, they’ll still be making their first trip to the postseason and that in itself is a great achievement.