Cruz Azul Takes the Bragging Rights in Mexico City

Mexico's capital welcomed a fierce quarter final tie between two of its clubs, Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM, with space for only one of them in the final four.
Cruz Azul v Pumas UNAM - Playoffs Torneo Clausura 2024 Liga MX
Cruz Azul v Pumas UNAM - Playoffs Torneo Clausura 2024 Liga MX / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

The first round of the 2024 Liga MX Clausura playoffs saw two of Mexico City's sides, Pumas and Cruz Azul go head-to-head for a place in the final four of the competition.

With all the ties said and done, the winner would be joining another intracity rival, in the form of Club América, along with Chivas and Monterrey in the semi final.

The first leg was played in the south of the city, at Pumas' Estadio Universitario. In front of the Pumas supporters. The score ended 2-0 but in favour of the Liga MX regular season second seed Cruz Azul.

Breaking the deadlock within the first half an hour of the game, it was first-blood Cruz Azul who capitalised on a Julio González mistake. Trying to claim the inswinging cross outside of the six-yard box, González clattered into Adrian Aldrete as Cruz Azul winger Rodrigo Huescas won back the ball and set up Ignacio Rivero to tap into an almost-empty net. Racing away to celebrate, Captain Rivero kisses the badge and smashes a ball into the crowd to express his emotions.

Almost going from hero to villain, Rivero was lucky to avoid a straight red card for a late challenge Aldrete five minutes after scoring. The on-field decision was a yellow card, but hearts were in mouths for a few seconds as VAR reviewed the challenge, only to agree with Luis Enrique Santander Aguirre's decision.

In the moments before half time, Pumas pressurised the goal with chances from Cesar Huerta, Rogelio Funes Mori and Leo Suárez but all failed to truly test Azul's Colombian goalkeeper Kevin Mier.

Azul scored their first on the half hour mark and then doubled their lead on the hour mark. Huescas carried the ball down the right flank before grabbing his second assist of the game by offloading the ball to Lorenzo Faravelli whose effort from outside the box was faintly deflected off of Jesús Rivas to send 'keeper González the wrong direction.

Despite the first leg result, there was reason for optimisation for Pumas. Whilst Cruz Azul dominated aspects of the game, Los Universitarios had their chances but ultimately failed to make them count.

Attention then turned to Sunday 12th May, when the two teams fought at the Estadio Deportes, home of Cruz Azul. Leading 2-0, Los Azules were the favourites to hold on and reach the semi final.

The first half provided little to impact the tie as both teams went into their respective dressing rooms with the scoreline still at 0-0.

The comeback seemed to be on the cards just five minutes in the second half after Huerta clipped in a delightful ball that fell perfectly to Guillermo Martínez to header into the ground and past Mier in the Azul net.

Pilling on the pressure, Martínez missed a great opportunity moments later. Racing down on goal with the ball, his effort went wide of the goal.

Cruz Azul would bite back, making Pumas pay for all of their missed chances in the second half. The ball found its way to Alexis Gutiérrez in the box who read the flight of the looping cross to perfection, turning away from Pumas' Rivas to emphatically smash the half-volley beyond González in the Pumas net. The equaliser on the night restored Azul's two-goal lead on aggregate.

Things would go from bad to worse for Pumas who saw Brazilian defender Nathan handed a straight red card, reducing them to 10-men. Azul found themselves on a counterattack when Ángel Sepúlveda was brought down on the halfway line, with a clear opportunity to put Azul ahead on the night. This was Nathan's second red card in three games, following the same outcome during Pumas' play-in tournament win against Pachuca.

The Mexico City derby would provide more drama just moments later when 10-men Pumas took the lead once more, bringing themselves back to a one-goal deficit. After winning the ball back on the halfway line, the ball was played into Huerta on the left-hand side. Racing down on goal, his shot was deflected to loft over the diving Mier to give Pumas one last glimmer of hope.

Fighting to get a result in the game, Cruz Azul secured their qualification for once and for all in the dying moments of the game. During added time, Azul outnumbered Pumas whilst on the attack. With some quick passes from Gutiérrez and Sepúlveda, the ball was put on a plate for Faravelli to seal Azul's feat.

The result means that Cruz Azul face Monterrey in the next round of the competition. With Club América on the other side of the draw, facing Chivas, it means that a chance for an all-capital final remains on the cards.