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Cruz Azul somehow hold on to beat Pumas; win 3rd straight and are playoff bound

La Máquina survived a tempestuous (pun intended) second half to grab a vital road victory in Ciudad Universitaria.

Pumas UNAM v Cruz Azul - Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images

With their 2-1 road victory yesterday afternoon, Cruz Azul all but clinched a playoff spot. It was their third win over the past 8 days, and because of that streak have now climbed the league table all the way to 9th overall with 21 points. Amazing. Just over a week ago they sat nearly last with just 12 points, starting to think about next season. Now it appears they’ll at least have one last chance at a playoff run.

After a relatively even first 25 minutes of the match, Cruz Azul jumped in front thanks to an Ángel Romero cross on Pumas’ right flank that found an open Rodrigo Huescas, who pounded in his header off the crossbar. Twenty minutes later, keeper Julio González misjudged a low cross on a corner kick, leaving the loose ball to a wide open Gonzalo Carneiro, who pushed the ball in elegantly with his back facing an empty net for the 2-0 halftime lead in favor of La Máquina.

But wrong was anyone who thought the game was over. Lillini made one adjustment at the half, subbing in Diogo de Oliveira for Gustavo del Prete. And what an adjustment it was. Pumas were immediately on the offensive. They controlled ball possession, created chances, and kept Cruz Azul in their own half, but simply struggled to put it in the back of the net. Diogo de Oliveira somehow missed a wide open header from a good cross by César Huerta in the 58th minute. A turnover by Cruz Azul in their own third of the pitch in the 63rd minute led to a dangerous shot inside the box by Eduardo Salvio that was ultimately deflected by a defender for a corner.

A couple minutes later, the assault continued and Pumas were finally rewarded. A cross by Salvio on the right side found Dani Alves a few inches outside the box, who calmly lobbed it with the inside part of his boot to an outstretched César Huerta, causing keeper Corona to cough it up, sending it right to Diogo, who was lucky his shot was deflected in, because if not for that, it was headed straight to Corona. Pumas got their goal and were now down 2-1.

Two minutes later, Diogo had another chance on the right side, just outside the six-yard box that Corona heroically got an arm on to deflect at the last second and send it off the post and out, saving Cruz Azul yet again. The keeper intervened again in the 70th minute with a long distance attempt by Salvio, which he barely managed to keep under control on the soaking wet pitch. Finally, an 88th minute Salvio offside annulled a good Dinenno header goal which would’ve been the 2-2. Pumas finished the match with 22 total shots to Cruz Azul’s 11. The home side deserved more in this one.

In the end, however, this isn’t about deserving. The truth is Pumas have displayed extreme inconsistencies all season long and it has ultimately come back to haunt them, leaving them but a glimmer hope of making the playoffs. In regards to Cruz Azul, this is a very limited squad talent-wise compared to other seasons, who have come together to beat three lower tier clubs (Mazatlán, León, Pumas) over the past week. Not taking any credit away from them, but with the conformist display we saw yesterday and inability to respond that we’ve seen over the course of the season, don’t expect them to make to deep of a playoff run.

In fact, amazingly enough, Cruz Azul could even end up playing a home Repechaje match if they’re able to get more points than León in the final regular season game. Truly incredible to go from being practically eliminated to having a shot at a home Repechaje match in a matter of 3 games just goes to show how broken the Mexican league system truly is. With that being said, it is Liga MX, and we’re used to knowing anything can happen, literally.