By Tom Marshall
Mexican giants America have to win by two clear goals against Santos to proceed to the final of the Mexican playoffs and Pumas have to beat Monterrey.
For many it was the dream final: America v Pumas. A final that could put new impetus into Mexican soccer, that would see two of the biggest teams in the land lock horns. Sponsors and television companies licked their lips at the prospect of the bitter Mexico City rivals making it to the finals.
Following the Thursday night games when both teams played at home, both face a monumental struggle to make the dream final come true.
America, in front of a pitiful crowd at the Estadio Azteca, lost 2-1 to Santos thanks to a late Christian Benitez screamer. Although America gave as good as they got and a tie may have been a fairer result, the class of Benitez snatched it for Santos. The nouveau riche team from Mexico’s north now consistently in compete in the last stages of the liguilla. Both teams are rumored to pay the highest salaries in the Mexican game but it is Santos that have molded the better team.
In Torreon on Sunday, America need to win by two clear goals. It might be good for television figures if America go through but Santos won’t care about that. They want to get their hands on the trophy that was denied them by an epic penalty shootout against Toluca in the final last season.
Players to watch:
Christian Benitez (Santos): Already has 15 goals to his name this season at a ratio of over a goal per game. Enough said.
Daniel “Rolfi” Montenegro (America): Just coming back from injury much of America’s positive play comes through the Argentine. Playing just off the front man, if America are to turn the 2-1 scoreline around, Rolfi will surely be at the heart of it.
Pumas will have to beat Monterrey on Sunday night if they are to make the final following a 0-0 draw in the Estadio Olimpico on Thursday.
On paper it is a difficult assignment, but there are reasons Pumas can go into the game with confidence. Monterrey have gone five games without a victory and have conceded ten goals in their last three at home. Their defense looked good against in the 0-0 draw on Thursday but when they are forced to come out a little, cracks may appear. Pumas also can point to their victory over Cruz Azul as evidence that anything is possible.
With Humberto Suazo and Aldo De Nigris in scintillating form upfront, Monterrey are a frightening attacking force though. The bottom line remains that Pumas face a difficult task in what will be a hostile environment.
Players to watch:
Humberto Suazo (Monterrey): Exceptionally lively striker in and around the box, the Chilean will be looking to add to his season’s goal tally of 11.
Francisco Palencia (Pumas): Pumas’ creative inspiration, the long-haired 37-year-old will be looking to roll back the years to unlock the Monterrey defense.
Santos v America @ 6 p.m. Sunday in the Estadio Corona, Torreon
Monterrey v Pumas @ 8 p.m. Sunday in the Estadio Tecnologico, Monterrey