Man of the match: Christian Benítez had his team up two after 13 minutes, taking advantage of some lax defending from Cruz Azul to start what looked to be an easy day. Benítez missed a late first half penalty that could have been the difference, but with two already in the bag, Mexico’s leading goal-scorer takes the honors.
Packaged for takeaway:
- It’s already being called the game of the tournament, and it just so happens to be the final one of Mexico’s qualification stage. América came into the match already having clinched a spot in the Liguilla (though they could have risen as high as second, they’ll settle for third), while Cruz Azul needing three points to make the postseason. La Maquina settles for ninth, two points behind Jaguares.
- The crowd as up for the occasion. Estadio Azteca looked packed for the derby between Mexico City rivals. In this case, the Clasico Joven was truly a classic.
- The day looked to be over early for Cruz Azul thanks to a defense that was 15 minutes late showing up. In that time, Benítez potted two. The first came after long ball from right wing back Paul Aguilar found “Chucho” behind Jair Pereira with a 60-yard pass before the tournament’s leading goal scorer easily chipped Jose de Jesus Corona. The second saw Benítez dribble through the Cruz Azul defense with Hector Gutiérrez on his back, play a ball out left only to get it back in traffic for his second. Again on the play, Pereira could have done more.
- After the second goal, the match was as good as dead. Cruz Azul, disappointing all season, appeared to have mailed in their last chance to salvage their tournament. With the talent at Enrique Meza’s disposal, La Maquina only need a ticket to become the life of the party. That the same team could be down 2-0 13 minutes into a must-win derby was disappointingly amazing.
- And it could have been worse. Benítez should have a hat trick by intermission but put his penalty kick only three (or so) feet to the right of Corona. The save was easy.
- Pereira gave up the penalty kick shortly after his headed conversion of a corner injected life into his team. Down 2-1 at the time, the 23rd minute goal started Cruz Azul’s control of the match. They had just over an hour to get the two goals they needed to make the postseason.
- Even with the goal, Pereira had a terrible day. He would eventually get sent off after collecting a second yellow card late in the match. His defensive mistakes were part of both goals that will keep Cruz Azul from the playoffs.
- Their best chance to equalize before halftime started in the 32nd minute, when Moises Muñóz was called on at full stretch to push a ball over the bar. The ensuing restart led to a headed ball off the cross bar, with the rebound letting Omar Bravo redirect a shot toward a perceived open net. América, however, kept their slim edge when José Maria Cárdenas, back to the field, used an overhead kick to clear the ball off the line.
- Cruz Azul finally got an equalizer on 73 minutes, with Bravo’s nice layoff for Emanuel Villa producing the equalizer. Only shortly before, Cruz Azul had woken up from a halftime malaise that saw the team fail to rekindle their first half momentum. Had there not been an intermission, Cruz Azul could have continued rolling through América.
- After the match, Cruz Azul remained incensed about a controversial, late-match call. Villa appeared to be fouled in the right of the penalty area by Aqulvaldo Mosquera, but just as every foul that’s committed within one yard of the line, the spot of the foul was placed outside the box. Christian Gimenez blasted the ensuing kick a Muñóz, Cruz Azul’s last real chance of the match.
- For Cruz Azul, now they get to focus on Copa Libertadores. For América, the draw means they’ll get Pachuca in the quarterfinals. Had they won, they would have been drawn against Liguilla neophytes Club Tijuana.
Pictures or it didn’t happen!