Monday, October 18

Cruz Azul – Pachuca: Keys to atypical Liga MX semifinals

The Cruz Azul footballers celebrate 3-1 against Toluca, in the quarterfinals of the Liga MX.
The Cruz Azul footballers celebrate 3-1 against Toluca, in the quarterfinals of the Liga MX.Carlos Ramírez / EFE

Will it be the year of the Cruz Azul? The Liga MX semifinals have classified teams that have broken the odds in Mexico. If there is something certain about the Cruz Azul-Pachuca (Wednesday, 20:30) and Puebla-Santos (Thursday, 21:00) Laguna matches, it is that there will be an unlikely champion. All matches will have an audience in the stands due to the improvement in the epidemiological situation in the country, although yes, with reduced capacity.

The so-called Guard1anes closing tournament, in honor of the medical personnel facing the covid-19 pandemic, has been the rebirth of Cruz Azul. Yes, once again and the club seeks, once and for all, to win the League after almost 24 years without doing so. Last December, the cement company’s team fell like never before in a final phase of Liga MX. The heavenly club beat the UNAM Pumas 4-0 in the first leg. It seemed to be a final point, but Cruz Azul navigated errors that cost them to lose the return 4-0 and, due to position in the table, they were left out.

The defeat raised suspicions and doubts on the part of the leaders that forced the resignation of the then coach, Robert Dante Siboldi. The cement manufacturers looked for Hugo Sánchez, the legendary Real Madrid striker, to hand him over the technical direction. There was no final agreement and they decided to give the opportunity to Juan Reynoso, a Peruvian strategist who in his days as a soccer player was champion with Cruz Azul in 1997, the last time they won the League.

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Cruz Azul gained strength with Reynoso despite all the omens. Those in blue lost their first two matches against today’s semifinalists, Santos Laguna and Puebla, and then they did not lose a match again. They maintained a 12-win streak. In the quarterfinals they ran into Toluca: in the first leg they lost 2-1 and, with the scare in their bodies, they turned it 3-1 to qualify for the semifinals. Reynoso’s pupils have the best offense (26 goals scored) and the best defense (11 goals conceded).

Pachuca and Puebla, the underrated

Pachuca won their first match of the tournament until matchday 11 and the position of their coach, Paulo Pezzolano, was in limbo. The owners bet on the project. The team achieved another five victories that reached them to enter the playoffs phase as eighth place. The play-off meant a restart of everything because they beat the favorite, the Chivas de Guadalajara (4-2). In the quarterfinals they defeated Santiago Solari’s América with a good result in the first leg, 3-1. The result was unexpected because the Eagles had been one of the most stable clubs during the regular tournament. On the return leg, in a somersault match, Pachuca managed to qualify for the semifinals thanks to visiting goals even though they lost 4-2. Pachuca, a specialist in knocking down favorites, seeks to win its seventh Liga MX trophy.

The team that has surprised in the championship is Puebla. The group under the baton of the Argentine Nicolás Lacarmon, 36, finished third in the Mexican championship. The club knew how to win at the necessary moment (seven wins) and move away from defeat with only three defeats. They found in Santiago Ormeño, a Mexican with Peruvian blood, their star forward with nine goals. Ormeño rose to fame by playing, during confinement, by playing a tournament of the FIFA video game. Puebla beat Atlas in the quarterfinals thanks to its position in the table. The global score was a 1-1 that pushed Lacarmon’s team to the limit. From Puebla they look forward to the only two league titles they have won (1982-83 and 1989-90). The last time the team got excited was in 2009 when they lost in agony to Pumas in the semifinals.

Santos Laguna: the key is in the youth

In the dressing rooms of Santos Laguna is the future of Mexican football. The club led by Uruguayan Jorge Almada has pushed 25-year-old goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo to take over as goalkeeper and has even made him its captain. On offense, he has made Eduardo Aguirre (22 years old) one of his fixed forwards and a promising future for the Mexican team. There is also Santiago Muñoz, sub-17 world runner-up, who has managed to sneak into the first team and is one of those shortlisted to represent Mexico in the Olympic Games.

Santos, fifth in the general classification, took Javier Aguirre’s Monterrey off the road. In a series that seemed to give the Rayados victory, a goal from the youthful Ronaldo Prieto in the last minute qualified them for the semifinals. The last time that Torreón’s team won the title was in 2018 when they beat Toluca.

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