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The tactical battle between 'El Tuca' Ferretti and his ex-assistant at Pumas, Guillermo Vázquez, was decisively won by the Brazilian as Pumas attacking threat was stifled while the attacking flair of the Monterrey side was allowed to flourish. Goals from Juninho and Damián Alvarez, created by the flair of Argentinian Lucas Lobos saw the home side cruise to an ultimately comfortable win.
Pumas began with the same team that had beaten Jaguares, while similarly Ferretti kept faith with the side that took a point in Cancún last weekend.
The game started brightly with both teams pushing forward in a lively early evening atmosphere in Monterrey. In particular Dante López for Pumas was making some intelligent runs, but both teams were showing excellent movement and playing at a good rhythm. Lobos was getting Verón thinking while the less cerebral but no less intense battle between 'Pikolín' Palacios and Itamar Batista was fascinating.
As the game settled down both midfields found their feet and spaces began to disappear, so while there was a lot of endeavour from the two sides there were a lot of mistakes and no real chances created. Slowly, however, Tigres began to gain the ascendancy, and they began to exert pressure, although initially it appeared that the Pumas defence was comfortable. First Alvarez had a weak shot easily saved by Bernal and then Jiménez headed over from a Lobos corner, but it was still something of a surprise when Tigres took the lead.
Alvarez took the ball down the left hand side then fed Lobos who burst towards the area. The cover seemed to be there but he fed back to Juninho just outside the area for a shot at goal. The attempt was going wide, but unfortunately for Chiapas, who was the covering defender, the ball slid off the bottom of his foot and ended up in the bottom corner of Bernal's net. Tigres probably just about deserved their lead, but the Pumas defence had seemed as if it could cope.
As often happens the goal changed the game. Tigres now came forward with much more purpose and confidence while Pumas began to look a little more nervous on the ball. In particular we saw little of last week's form from Cortés and Leandro was somewhat negative in his play. Curiously Antonio Sancho, the ex-Pumas captain, was also very quiet for Tigres as the home side bypassed him in their attempt to be more direct. It was at this point that Espinosa showed his best as he defended with intelligence while prompting some of Pumas's best attacking intentions.
Both sides had some half chances as the first period drew to a close, as Dante shot just wide and Alvarez had his weak effort comfortably stopped by Bernal. Nevertheless the most interesting episode at this point was the tussle between Castro and Itamar. Normally self-controlled and somewhat self-effacing Castro took exception to Itamar's treatment of Espinosa and Palacios and pushed the Brazilian away, and he immediately fell to the ground and claimed for a penalty. Referee Roberto García, who had an excellent game, correctly took no notice and awarded a free-kick to Pumas for the original infringement.
Pumas needed to come out with more attacking ideas in the second half but Tuca's instructions were clearly to close down the space rapidly and give his ex-team no time to build attacks. Tigres broke up the game successfully and Pumas's only chances came from set plays, as Bravo went in on a Leandro free-kick and got clattered by goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo for his trouble, while on another occasion Palacios headed straight at the 30 year-old keeper. Tigres had few attacking moments but were keeping the game quiet, while Pumas's best effort came from Leandro who had his shot from outside the area palmed away by Saucedo after good work from Dante.
Bravo had not been at his best and Viniegra and Juninho had covered him well, so it made sense for him to make way for another attacking option. Surprisingly, though, Vázquez went for Palencia when Cacho seemed the better choice. From this moment the attack became more laboured, although Orrantia was lively on the right after coming on for the disappointing Cortés. As Pumas struggled more Tigres finally took hold of the game. Itamar Batista came close to making it two for the home team as Lobos got free down the left and fired in a cross that the Brazilian's lunge could not quite reach.
Then with quarter of an hour left Tigres effectively made the game safe with a beautifully worked goal inspired by Lobos. Working his way down the right past a couple of defenders he slid an inch-perfect ball across the area to Pulido who had come on for Itamar. As Espinosa came to make the challenge, the 19 year-old slipped the ball deftly left to Alvarez who slotted into the empty net.
Pumas offered very little from then on, except from a Leandro free-kick which went straight to Saucedo and Lobos, ex-Puma Toledo and Alvarez carried the ball effectively for Tigres and comfortably played out time. As time ran out the frustration finally told as clumsy challenges saw Palencia and Palacios become the first bookings of the game. With this victory Tigres climb to fifth in the overall standings, while Pumas drop behind Jaguares again in Group 3.
Tigres: Cirilo Saucedo, Juninho, Hugo Ayala, Jorge Torres Nilo, Israel Jiménez, Antonio Sancho (Jesús Molina 76), Manuel Viniegra, Lucas Lobos, Francisco Acuña (David Toledo 85), Itamar Batista (Alán Pulido 76), Damián Álvarez. Manager: Ricardo Ferretti.
Pumas: Sergio Bernal, Efraín Velarde, Marco Antonio 'Pikolín' Palacios, Darío Verón, Jehu Chiapas (Fernando Morales 72), Fernando Espinosa, Israel Castro, Leandro Augusto, Dante López, Martín Bravo (Juan Francisco Palencia 66), Javier Cortés (Carlos Orrantia 58). Manager: Guillermo Vázquez.
Juninho (22 minutes) 1-0
Damián Alvarez (77) 2-0
Pumas: yellow: Palacios, Palencia (Both for frustrated challenges near the end)
Pumas Player Ratings
Bernal 7: No chance for the goal and otherwise a safe pair of hands.
Velarde 5: Reasonably comfortable but we are still to see him creating in attack.
Palacios 6: One mistake when left in trouble by Verón but in general in his duel with Batista he came out with credit.
Verón 6: As last week a few little mistakes but a good all round performance.
Espinosa 7: Continues to be positive and made some excellent tackles too.
Chiapas 5: Anopnymous for much of the game but a couple of nice touches.
Castro 6: Not as dominant as last week, but it is great to see the desire back.
Leandro 5: A little too negative and often caught going backwards. A couple of nice cracks on goal though.
Bravo 6: Tried hard but given very little space.
Dante 7: Full of running and Pumas's best forward.
Cortés 5: Quiet although did have one header go just wide.
Orrantia 6: Did pretty well on the right and looks to be growing in confidence.
Palencia 4: Slowed the game right down when he came on. Pumas have to pick someone else.
Morales 5: Still working his way back to full match fitness.
Vázquez 6: Outdone by Ferretti tactically but made a good fist of it, and with a bit more luck might have got something out of the game. Nevertheless he must start to see how damaging Palencia is to this team.
Elsewhere in Mexico
All four Mexican teams reached the last eight of the Concacaf Champons League following this week's results. The only loss was by already qualified Cruz Azul who fell 3-1 in Utah against Real Salt Lake. Their understrength team was undone by a brace from Paolo Araújo. Monterrey claimed a 1-0 victory in Honduras with the winner from Sergio Santana, thus finishing with the best qualifying record of the quarter-finalists. Toluca confirmed their spot in the next round by crushing FAS of El Salvador in the Estadio Nemesio Diez. A Héctor Mancilla hatrick helped them to a 5-0 victory. And finally Santos were equally emphatic in dispatching Municipal of Guatemala 6-1with Oribe Peralta and Daniel Ludueña getting two goals apiece. The quarter finals will take place at the end of February with the qualified teams being: Monterrey, Santos, Toluca, Cruz Azul (all Mexico), Real Salt Lake, Columbus Crew (both USA), and Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica). The last spot will go to either Puerto Rico Islanders or Olímpia of Honduras.
In this week's league games the play-offs began to loom large. Cruz Azul could have qualified this week with a win, but could only manage a 1-1 draw in Morelia, with their ex-striker Miguel Sabah getting a late equaliser for the Monarcas. San Luis pushed themselves into play-off contention with a comfortable 2-0 at Necaxa, comfirming their position at the top of Group 2, and ensuring Necaxa remain at the bottom of the relegation table. Querétaro eased their relegation worries as a second-half goal by Uruguyan Sergio Blanco saw them to a 1-0 win over Estudiantes.
Jaguares moved up into a play-off spot, defeating Pachuca 2-0 in Tuxtla, while goals from Alfredo 'El Chango' Moreno and ex-Puma Gerardo Espinoza gained Atlas a valuable 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Atlante, who now go second bottom in the relegation battle. In the game between second and third, Monterrey came out on top 2-1 against Santos to remain unbeaten and move level on points with Cruz Azul. Humberto Suazo got a spectacular first for the 'regiomontanos' while fellow sharpshooter Chistián Benítez pulled Santos level. Osvaldo Martínez got the winner when he pushed in the rebound after a save by Oswaldo Sánchez from Neri Cardozo. Toluca maintained their unbeaten home record with a 2-1 win over Puebla, despite falling behind to a Gabriel Pereyra goal. A Sinha free-kick and a Mancilla header saw them to victory. Meanwhile there was embarrassment all round as a healthy 90,000 crowd saw Chivas and América play out an inspid bore draw in the Azteca. There were even suggestions after the sterile 0-0 that fans may even get their money back.
With four games left, Cruz Azul and Monterrey remain poised to qualify, while San Luis and Santos are next-best placed.
San Luis 22
Cruz Azul 29
The top two teams from each group qualify with the last two quarter-finalists being those with the next best records.
This week there are midweek games, with Pumas hosting Atlas on Tuesday evening. On the same night Pachuca v Tigres looks interesting, while on Wednesday Chivas host Toluca. Wednesday's big game is between the top two as Cruz Azul travel to Monterrey.