By Tom Marshall
After a fascinating last weekend of games, the preliminaries are over in the Mexican league and the playoffs are about to begin with some fascinating ties in store.
Game of the week:
Cruz Azul (1st in general table) v Pumas (8)
In Mexican Spanish the team backed by a cement company, Cruz Azul, has been chingón. In other words: the big daddy, the main man, indisputably Mexico’s best team in the Apertura 2010. Cruz Azul have emerged as the clear favorites for the title having scored more goals than anyone else, let in less and finished top of the general league.
From goalkeeper Jesus Corona, through the spine of the team with Gerardo Torrado and Chaco Gimenez on to strikers of the quality of Emanuel Villa and Javier Orozco, the squad oozes class. Managed by the vastly experienced and multiple title-winning coach ‘Profe’ Enrique Meza, Cruz Azul are the big favorites against Pumas.
A look back in the history books will give UNAM’s Pumas some reason to hope though. The last four times Cruz Azul finished top of the overall standings (1995-96, Invierno 98, Invierno 2000 and Apertura 2006), they were eliminated by the 8th placed team in the quarter finals. If Pumas can grab something in the first leg at home, they could make the second tie a nervy one for Cruz Azul. Last time the two teams met, Pumas won. In fact, Pumas were excellent at home throughout the season.
Off the back of an emotional, if fortuitous, 1-0 victory against America in the Estadio Azteca to snatch a place in the playoffs at the last minute, Pumas fans will say the momentum might just be with them. And, if Pumas need more stats to boost their confidence against the awesome Cruz Azul, they should remember that they were the last team to finish 8th and win the tournament, in the Apertura 2004.
It should be remembered that this is a Mexico City derby and form coming into the encounter may be thrown out the window. Whatever happens, the atmosphere for both games promises to be electric.
Bottom line despite the stats: it would be a major shock if Cruz Azul aren’t in the semi-finals.
1st leg: Wednesday, November 17 at 9pm (Olimpico Universitario ((Pumas))
2nd leg: Saturday, November 20 at 5 pm (Estadio Azul)
Monterrey (2) v Pachuca (7)
Pachuca will be quietly fancying their chances in this dual. They come into the liguilla (playoffs) off the back of three straight victories. In comparison, Monterrey have lost their last two and are without five of their best players (Luis Pérez, Jonathan Orozco y Severo Meza through suspension and Walter Ayovi and star striker Humberto Suazo to international call ups) for the first leg.
The teams met at the same stage of the playoffs in the Bicentenario 2010 when Pachuca, who finished 8th, knocked out the northern team.
Monterrey smell revenge but Pachuca will be looking for a first leg lead while Monterrey are weakened.
1st leg: Thursday, November 18 at 6pm (Estadio Hidalgo, Pachuca)
2nd leg: Sunday, November 21 at 4 pm (Estadio Tecnológico, Monterrey)
Santos (3) v Jaguares (6)
Santos boast the league’s most prolific goalscorer in Ecuadorian Christian Benitez but he won’t be playing in the first leg as he’s been called up by his country. With other players like Fernando Arce, Daniel Ludueña and Darwin Quintero, Santos still look strong however and are heavy favorites to prevail.
For Jaguares, Jackson Martínez and Ismael Fuentes have both been called up for international duty and miss the first leg.
Jaguares have only lost once at home but with Santos seeking revenge after they lost the Bicentenario 2010 on penalties, the Jaguares of Chiapas face an uphill task.
Thursday, November 18 at 8 pm (Estadio Víctor Manuel Reyna, Tuxtla Gutiérrez)
Sunday, November 21 at 6 pm (Estadio Corona TSM, Torreon)
America (4) v San Luis (5)
Both teams are owned by the same huge Televisa broadcasting company and San Luis are known as America’s “little brother.” Yes, Mexican soccer can be bizarre.
San Luis’ president has already been busy telling the media that he just hopes the referee is fair and doesn’t favor the bigger team. In the last fixture between the two less than a month to go, America won 2-1 but the Gladiadores of San Luis had two goals disallowed, which they felt shouldn’t have been.
Both teams have been neck and neck all season. Expect a tight game.
Wednesday, November 17 at 7 pm (Estadio Alfonso Lastras Ramírez, San Luis Potosi)
Saturday, November 20 at 7 pm (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City)