Pumas, Tuneros fill out Liga MX playoff bracket

Favio Álvarez celebrates after scoring 30 seconds into the second half, a goal that sparked the Pumas' big comeback (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images)
Favio Álvarez celebrates after scoring 30 seconds into the second half, a goal that sparked the Pumas' big comeback (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX M17 final
Diogo joined the Pumas a week before the Liga MX transfer deadline and his acquisition paid off. He scored twice and added an assist against Cruz Azul. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /

It was a case of “déjà vu all over again” as Cruz Azul collapsed against UNAM Sunday, allowing the Pumas to swipe a wildcard berth from Necaxa while consigning the Cementeros to a wildcard match against Monterrey.

UNAM erupted for three second-half goals against the reigning Liga MX champs, winning 4-3, a similar scoreline to the infamous Cruz Azul collapse in the Guardianes 2020 semifinals.

In December last year, the Pumas overcame a 4-0 first-leg deficit in the Liga MX Final Four by overwhelming a discombobulated Cementeros side, scoring three times in the first half then getting an 89th minute “winner” to advance to Liga MX Final by virtue of a better regular-season record.

This time around, UNAM needed a win to reach the playoffs, while Cruz Azul was seeking to improve its middling playoff seeding while also resting a few starters.

Pumas claw back from two-goal deficit

With UNAM in need of a win and pressing forward, Cruz Azul was finding room on the counter and wreaking havoc in front of Alfredo Talavera.

The Pumas opened the scoring early (defender Arturo Ortiz headed home a corner kick in minute 6), but Roberto Alvarado scored a first-half hat trick and the Cementeros strolled into the locker room at the break with a 3-1 lead.

Playing without midfield stud Luis Romo and dangerman Jonathan Rodríguez, neither of whom was on the game-day roster, “La Máquina” was moving the ball effectively, exhibiting patience on offense and pressing UNAM on defense.

Then came the second half. Favio Álvarez scored 30 seconds after the restart and Cruz Azul immediately went into panic mode. The Cementeros might have stemmed the tide as Yoshimar Yotún pinged the post with a chipped shot a minute later, but it was all back-pedaling after that.

Cementeros keeper Jesús Corona made a brave save of a point-blank shot by Washington Corozo in minute 50, and Diogo and Juan Ignacio Dinenno came close shortly thereafter.

The Brazilian Diogo – a midseason acquisition – stamped his mark on the game after coming on at the break. He assisted Álvarez’s goal to start the comeback, then finished off a counterattack with a thumping goal in minute 62. In minute 84, Diogo pounced on a rebound resulting from another Pumas fast break, clanging the game-winner off the left post and etching his name forever in UNAM lore.

The Cementeros’ faceplant forces the defending Liga MX champs to take on a talented, but underachieving Monterrey team in a wildcard match, making the odds of a repeat rather slim. The two Liga MX powerhouses played twice in Estadio Azteca this term, the first a 1-1 draw in their regular-season match, and the other a 4-1 Rayados rout in the second leg of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series.