Cruz Azul has work to do against feisty Pumas

Alan Mozo tormented Cruz Azul the right wing during the first leg of the CCL semifinals. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Alan Mozo tormented Cruz Azul the right wing during the first leg of the CCL semifinals. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Cruz Azul Pumas CCL 2nd
Cruz Azul striker Santiago Giménez can expect some tight marking from Nicolás Freire and the Pumas defense. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

A limping Cruz Azul team must make up a one-goal deficit when the Pumas pay a visit to Estadio Azteca tonight in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.

The Cementeros will be without goalie and captain Jesús Corona (bone bruise, right leg) and midfielder Carlos Rodríguez (stress fracture, right leg), while starting defender Juan Escobar (bruised ribs) is also doubtful. Substitute forward Angel Romero is also battling fitness issues for “La Máquina.”

The Pumas have fewer questions marks with the only concern being midfielder Leo López who took a knock to the shin over the weekend.

UNAM holds a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at home last week, but no doubt feels they deserved more after taking a 2-0 lead into the half. Substitute Christian Tabó narrowed the gap with a nice short-side goal in minute 83 to give Cruz Azul a measure of hope.

Cruz Azul is favorite, but has not been on song

Oddsmakers saw the Cementeros as favorites to reach the CCL finals, but an offensive slump has slowed their chase for hardware.

Cruz Azul has scored more than one goal just once since a 2-2 draw at the Tigres way back on March 2. That single instance came against these same Pumas on Matchday 10 (March 12) when “La Máquina” defeated the Pumas 2-1 at Estadio Azteca.

Coach Juan Reynoso has yet to find a line-up that clicks in the offensive third and tonight he’ll be without Charlie Rodíguez, the team’s sparkplug in midfield. That will put added pressure on winger Uriel Antuna and striker Santiago Giménez.

One solution could be to start Tabó who came over from Puebla during the winter transfer window but is only now seeing action after suffering an injury before the season.

UNAM will look to attack Cruz Azul off the counter, especially from the flanks. Right fullback Alan Mozo was a particular nuisance in the first leg and the Cementeros’ back line will have to keep track of striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno who scored both Pumas goals last week. The big Argentine has 7 goals in five CCL matches thus far.

Coach Andrés Lillini will hope that netminder Alfredo Talavera is back at 100% after he was rested against Puebla on Friday. The central defense duo of Nicolás Freire and Arturo Ortiz has been in fine form, providing the visiting Pumas with security in front of net.

These two teams often provide some fireworks when they square off, so fans should expect 90 minutes of end-to-end action.

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UNAM has never reached a CCL final, losing at the semifinal stage on two prior occasions (2010, 2012). Cruz Azul was routed by Monterrey during last season’s CCL semifinals, last hoisting the ConcaChampions trophy in 2014.