Unforced error by Corona costly for Cruz Azul

Cruz Azul squandered a late lead against UNAM and settled for a tie. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul squandered a late lead against UNAM and settled for a tie. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul keeper bungles a handpass in the final minutes and UNAM’s Juan Iturbe made him pay.

Protecting a 1-0 lead, Cruz Azul captain Jesús Corona threw an errant outlet pass in minute 87. Andrés Iniestra intercepted it, knocking it to sub Juan “Turbo” Iturbe who dribbled down the left channel before blasting a shot from above the left corner of the box that soared over the outstretched hand of Corona and settled into the netting inside the far post.

And just like that, Cruz Azul squandered any momentum it might have gathered from Wednesday’s Leagues Cup victory. The draw does neither team much good as both the Pumas and Cementeros are on the outside of the playoff seeding as the season begins the second half. Plus, both teams still must serve their bye (the Pumas next week and Cruz Azul on Matchday 17.

Corona error costs Cruz Azul
Juan Iturbe gestures to the crowd after scoring in minute 87 to earn the Pumas a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

The host Pumas came into the game boasting the stingiest defense in Liga MX: fewest goals allowed, fewest shots allowed and fewest shots on goal allowed. But Cruz Azul was coming off a morale-boosting 2-1 win in the inaugural Leagues Cup final and hoping to use that as a springboard to rescue their lackluster Apertura 2019 season.

The Cementeros traded early punches with the Pumas, occasionally imposing their will, but neither team could capitalize in front of net. UNAM had 11 shots at halftime, but only one was on target, so Corona had a relatively easy 45 minutes between the pipes for Cruz Azul.

Corona error costs Cruz Azul
Jonathan “Cabecita” Rodríguez (left) is congratulated by teammates after scoring shortly after halftime to give visiting Cruz Azul the lead. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Just minutes after the restart, sub Elías Hernández filters a pass to Jonathan Rodríguez in the box and he took the ball off the bounce, taking a quick that sailed past Alfredo Saldívar and into the net. Cruz Azul led 1-0 in minute 48, continuing its good run at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. The Cementeros were 6-2-2 in their previous 10 visits to CU.

The Pumas pressed forward, but failed to create and danger. Carlos González managed only a soft header right at Corona in minute 61. Five minutes later, Saldívar preserved UNAM’s hopes by punching away a header off a Cruz Azul corner kick.

Felipe Mora headed wide for Pumas in minute 69 and “Turbo” shot high and wide two minutes later. Then Cruz Azul subs almost put the game away, but their wastefulness ended up costing them points. Edgar Méndez flubbed two scoring opportunities between minutes 76 and 82, Misael Domínguez scuffed a shot a minute later.

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Earlier, Milton Caraglio and Igor Lichnovsky had blown wide open chances, complicating matters for Cruz Azul. They simply failed to put the Pumas away. And it came back to haunt them in minute 87 when Corona inexplicably tossed an outlet pass toward no one in particular. To be fair, Corona might have expected Elías was going to cut toward the middle, but he did not and the keeper could have more wisely simply held onto the ball and killed another 10 or 15 seconds before thumping the ball to safety. Iturbe’s shot from the flank easily soared 35 meters, a genuine golazo.

Neither of these two Mexico City teams lost any ground in the standings with this result, but they did lose time, especially considering the challenging schedule that remains. Only two of Cruz Azul’s remaining eight opponents are not currently in playoff position. The Pumas next play league-leading Santos (after their bye) and also must face second-place León and third-place Querétaro, in addition to the Chivas.

The draw feels even more like a loss to Cruz Azul as this marks the fifth time this season the Cementeros have given up a lead late in a game (previously on Matchday 2 against Toluca, Matchday 6 vs Puebla, Matchday 7 at Tijuana, Matchday 8 vs the Chivas). In the game against the Xolos, Cruz Azul not only gave up the equalizer in the second half, they conceded the winner in added time.

Coach Robert Siboldi was unable to squeeze out a 90-minute performance from his team which has been wracked with dissension from the front office on down. Sunday’s lost points keeps Cruz Azul in 13th place, while the Pumas are stuck in 9th with a feeble offense (only three teams have scored fewer goals than UNAM).

Cruz Azul and UNAM will have to find solutions to their issues quickly or Mexico’s capital will only have one playoff team this season.