Oddly enough, the round of sixteen of the Copa Libertadores paired two teams that had already faced each other during the group stages. Deportivo Táchira (Venezuela) and Pumas UNAM (Mexico) featured a hard fought match of football for the first games of the tournament's knockout phase. A second half solitary goal by Colombian left-back, Yuber Mosquera, was enough to send Táchira to the Mexican capital with the lead.
Pumas UNAM rested their normal starting XI against Club Tijuana on Friday, a game in which they surprisingly collected a comfortable win. Manager Guillermo Vázquez has stated that he will go all-out in both the local competition and the Copa Libertadores, nevertheless, his decision to rest their best players was definitely guided by the factor that the first leg is away from home.
Táchira did not have such a convenient situation given the fact that they had the Venezuelan derby against Caracas FC on Sunday just 48 hours before hosting Pumas UNAM. The Libertadores' commission did not authorize a reschedule of the game.
A physical game
First legs are characterized by their lack of attacking intent and that is exactly what the two teams showed in the Stadium Polideportivo de Pueblo Nuevo. In the midst of poor illumination, a curious scene involving a pitch invader dog and Pumas' goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios will certainly grab the headlines for the uncommon feat of the day.
Amidst a very physical contest, the distribution of the ball was nearly nonexistent, reducing the game to long balls and cynical fouls. One of them involved the goalscorer, Yuber Mosquera, who went on a cleats high collision with midfielder Alejandro Castro. Replays show his studs clearly digging deep into Castro´s chest and despite him showing the laceration, the challenge was just sanctioned with a yellow card.
That decision would prove to be crucial for the game when Mosquera broke the deadlock just after halftime. A good offensive combination in the left flank which resulted in a well-placed cross was greeted by a soft clinical finish from Mosquera in the six-yard box. Pumas UNAM subbed off Fidel Martínez for Dante López in search of a better box presence with Eduardo Herrera.
Pumas down to ten
Twenty minutes before full time, Gerardo Alcoba was sent off for a rigorous second yellow card that in paper jeopardized Pumas´chances in the game. Surprisingly, the visitors seemed better with 10 men and were actually close to getting the highly coveted away goal. Táchira also found spaces with the extra man and were close to delivering a fatal blow but the lack of composure refrained the home team from sentencing the game.
In added time, Ismael Sosa was close from grasping a last minute equalizer with a shot from the edge of the box. The attempt to level the game were futile as the referee blew the final whistle giving Táchira a perseverant lead in the fixture.
All shall be decided next week in Estadio Olímpico in the heart of Mexico City. Táchira will probably stick to the same formula with a defensive game plan for the second leg. Pumas UNAM need to pick up their game and try to hit top notch form in order to secure a place in the Copa Libertadores´final eight.