Los Angeles Soccer: Horacio Cervantes
Cruz Azul's legacy of failure grew deeper Saturday, an indifferent performance -- marred by injury, ejection and a late penalty kick -- leading to the top seed's ouster from Mexico's Primera Division playoffs.
Juan Carlos Cacho converted an 83rd minute penalty kick to complete Pumas UNAM's comeback from defeat in the first leg of the quarterfinals, providing a 2-0 victory for a 3-2 aggregate triumph in a battle of Mexico City giants.
Martin Bravo struck in the second minute for Pumas, which must await Sunday's results to learn its semifinal opponent.
America also advanced to the final four, a 4-1 rout over San Luis at Estadio Azteca to reach the semifinals for the first time since losing to Pachuca in the 2007 Clausura final.
Cruz Azul was seeking its first Mexican title since 1997. La Maquina has lost in the title series in three of the last six tournaments and fallen in the CONCACAF Champions League final the past two seasons.
America settled for a 0-0 draw at San Luis in Wednesday's other Apertura quarterfinal first leg. Two more series begin Thursday; second legs will be played this weekend.
Gimenez's long-range free kick was deflected by Horacio Cervantes past Pumas goalkeeper Sergio Bernal to pull La Maquina even in the 33rd minute, and his volley from outside the box provided a 73rd-minute lead. Pumas, which dominated play early and went ahead through Dante Lopez in the 19th minute, will need a two-goal victory in Saturday's rematch across Mexico City to move on; higher-seeded teams advance if aggregate is even.
Guillermo Ochoa made three big saves, two on Ignacio Ambriz, and survived a Tressor Moreno blast off the crossbar for America, which has the advantage heading into Saturday's second leg in Mexico City. The fourth-seeded Aguilas were content to sit back and defend as San Luis, which included America Edgar Castillo in its lineup, pressed the issue most of the match.
Pachuca's in, Toluca and Guadalajara are out, and Pumas UNAM scored a big victory to claim the final berth in the Mexican Primera Division's playoffs.
Pachuca, with three Americans, struck early to beat Necaxa, 2-1, on Friday night, then waited 24 hours -- through five games -- to celebrate, clinching a top-eight spot when Atlas rallied to tie UANL Tigres on Saturday night.
It was a wild final regular-season weekend in the Apertura, featuring four late comebacks -- two of them playing decisive roles in the playoff race -- and Guadalajara's finest moment of the campaign, which was far too little for one of Mexico's two most popular clubs.
A quick rundown:
WHO'S IN: Jaguares (6-4-7), Pachuca (7-6-4) and Pumas (7-6-4) won the three available berths, all finishing one point ahead of Tigres (6-5-6), which saw its playoff hopes die on two penalty kicks.
Jaguares clinched with a 1-1 draw at Gallos Blancos, with Jorge Rodriguez's 81st minute equalizer providing the Chiapas club the required goal. Queretaro had gone ahead just two minutes earlier on a tremendous Sergio Oreteman drive to the upper-left corner.