Pachuca defeated America 3-0 in the return leg of the semifinals to qualify to the 2022 Clausura Final where they will face Atlas. Pachuca was the better side for 90 minutes against an America side that simply didn’t have it and whose defensive mistakes cost them dearly in the match. Pachuca, who ended the season in first place, were deserved finalists as they were the better team in the semifinals, improving a lot from their performance in the quarterfinals series against Atletico San Luis. They will first have to travel to Guadalajara to face defending champions Atlas on Thursday, before closing the season with the return leg at home. Coach Guillermo Almada continues with a great job, as he returns to the Finals a year after getting into the Clausura 2021 final with Santos, which they lost to Cruz Azul.
The first half started with America having the return of Richard Sanchez instead of Pedro Aquino in the starting eleven. The game had an incredible blooper when Erick Sanchez sent a back pass right to Diego Valdes, who turned around and shot it twice straight at Pachuca goalkeeper Oscar Ustari, wasting an incredible opportunity. Pachuca had a good chance when Aviles Hurtado got a free header that forced America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to make a great save. Then after a cross into the area from Hurtado, Romario Ibarra was left wide open by America’s defense and just scored a tap in with his left leg for the 1-0 lead in the match and the 2-1 lead on aggregate. America tried to bounce back with Roger Martinez getting a free header, but it went wide. Later Sanchez got a shot from outside the area that also went wide. After a tackle from Nicolas Ibañez, Sanchez went down with an injury, a troubling thing as he had just returned from an injury in the first leg. The referee then went to VAR and kept the yellow card for Ibañez. The game started to get very physical, with Pachuca getting a lot of yellow cards in quick succession. Ibarra got the ball in the area, but his left footed shot was saved by Ochoa. A free kick from Luis Chavez then went just wide. Then from way outside the area, Erick Sanchez surprised all of America with a long range right footed shot that went past everybody including the arms of Ochoa for the 2-0 lead in the game and 3-1 series lead. It looked like the goal that might have killed the series, as America now needed three goals to go through. The halftime whistle blew, and it looked like America would need a miracle to go through, which in Mexico isn’t rare.
The second half started with Sebastian Caceres getting subbed out because of injury for Jorge Mere. America went all out, as they needed three goals to go through to the final. Oscar Ustari had to make two great saves of back to back shots from Alejandro Zendejas and Luis Fuentes. It looked like a shot from Martinez had hit the post, but the referee had called back the play because of a foul from the attacker. Pachuca subbed out Aviles Hurtado (who looked upset about the change) for Fernando Navarro. America countered by subbing out Federico Viñas and Alejandro Zendejas for Henry Martin and Salvador Reyes. Then off a counter attack, Victor Guzman got a great cross that went through the legs of Bruno Valdez. Mere couldn’t get it, but Romario Ibarra did and got a left footed shot past Ochoa for the 3-0 lead and making it 4-1 on aggregate. America needed now to score four times and made changes because of it. Luis Fuentes and Jorge Sanchez were subbed out for Mauro Lainez and Jonathan Dos Santos. Luis Chavez got off a left footed shot from outside the area that Ochoa tipped into the post, in what would have been the fourth goal of the game. Minutes later it was a left footed shot from Guzman that hit the post and then bounced off of Ochoa, but he was able to get to the ball before it crossed the line. Pachuca subbed out Romario Ibarra for Bryan Gonzalez. America tried to attack, but the third goal had killed the match and they didn’t look close to scoring one goal let alone the four they needed. Pachuca subbed out Luis Chavez and Victor Guzman for Perdo Pedraza and Jesus Hernandez, two youngsters. It seemed that Pachuca was dominating so much that Coach Almada decided to give playing time to young players, confident that Pachuca had their ticket to the final booked. It turned out he had read the game perfectly, as America didn’t even come close to getting another shot on goal and Pachuca booked their return to a final.
Pachuca was the best team in the regular season, and finally lived up to expectations in the postseason. They had struggled in their quarterfinal series against Atletico San Luis, in which they tied in the first leg and only won in the return leg with a late goal in injury time. They hadn’t done great against America in the first leg, but they were the better team by far in the return leg, with a clear 3-0 win in which they were the better side for 90 minutes. America had a chance in the first minutes after a terrible mistake by Pachuca, but after Valdes missed it they were never close to taking the lead and defensive mistakes cost them dearly. Although fans should be proud of how the team improved after Coach Santiago Solari got fired, their high expectations probably would not allow them to see how much they did under interim coach Fernando Ortiz, who is expected to remain as coach. Ortiz will still need some reinforcements, especially on defense, if he’s expected to fight for a title next season. Pachuca meanwhile should be the favorite in the final but current champion Atlas is as tough a team to play in the final as they look to become the third team to win a “Bicampeonato” since short tournament started in 1996.