Roger Martinez's missed penalty ensured a 1-1 draw between Club America and Pumas UNAM in the first leg of the Liga MX semifinals matchup on Thursday night.
The first leg of the Clasico Capitalino thrilled spectators at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario, in a match that featured a pair of nicely executed goals, controversial referee decisions (with VAR included) and one-upmanship from goalkeeprs Agustin Marchesin and Alfredo Saldivar.
Ultimately, the No. 1s decided against allowing the final score to grow, and sent the series into the Estadio Azteca with a berth in the final on the line.
Respecting the norm so far this postseason, Club America went into the match searching to get on top early, securing the all-important away goal to help swing the balance in their favor. Oribe Peralta and Roger Martinez alternated between the central striker roles at various points in the first half, with either the Mexican or the Colombian forward dipping behind to aid the other.
It would be, however, 18-year-old Diego Lainez who tipped the scales in favor of Club America. Two minutes after an awkward clearance nearly gave Pumas a penalty kick call, Lainez sprinted through the right side of the home team's defense in the 14th minute, faked a cut toward the middle and sped into the box to send a cross that nearly found Peralta. Club America's boy wonder tried the exact same play again in the 20th minute, with the crucial difference this time being a look off the defender that gave him just enough space to shoot instead of pass. Pumas goalkeeper Alfredo Saldivar, also expecting a pass, failed to close down the near post, and Lainez sneaked his shot through for the goal.
After the opener, Pumas reacted quickly, and Paraguay international Carlos Gonzalez rifled a shot that Marchesin was able to kick away in the 23rd minute. A few ticks later, a free kick on the right side taken by Pablo Barrera was swatted away by the Argentine goalkeeper to keep the game 1-0.
It was then that Lainez nearly provoked a second goal for his team. After recovering a loose ball in the box, the teenager spun away from defenders and shot in a cross that found Paul Aguilar. The defender, who scored in Club America's last game against Toluca, shot twice -- both times the ball was blocked.
In the second half, Club America -- as has been their custom -- retreated defensively in an effort to prompt counterattacking opportunities on the wing. Pumas reacted nicely to this, stacking players up front.Just five minutes after the break, 20-year-old Alan Mozo emulated Lainez by braving up the right side of the box. His cross found a wide open Martin Rodriguez at the edge of the six-yard box, and the Chilean shot past Marchesin to tie the game up and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
Substitutions of Peralta and Lainez were meant to double down on Las Aguilas' counterattacking hopes, by adding Andres Ibarguen and Renato Ibarra. Miguel Herrera's initial 5-3-1-1 then shifted into a 5-2-2-1, moving Guido Rodriguez and Matheus Uribe into defensive midfield roles.
On more than one occasion, Ibarra and Ibarguen did get free, with one play in the 71st minute freeing up Uribe to shoot at the edge of the box into a diving Luis Quintana. The defender slapped the ball away with his hands, a detail not noticed by the referee initially. After a quick VAR review, Club America was given a penalty. The maligned Martinez stepped up, and Saldivar turned his solid performance into a much more memorable one by diving to his right and stopping the Colombian's shot.
A few minutes later, Martinez would be subbed out for Henry Martin. Perhaps not wanting to be upstaged, Marchesin showed similar prowess by denying Carlos Gonzalez off a close-range rocket just ten minutes from the end of the game. With both teams wanting an advantage prior to the second leg, the match turned into a see-saw battle, and neither goalkeeper ceded.
On the road to Sunday's decider, Club America can claim a slight advantage off their away goal. They have now gone undefeated in their last ten games against rivals Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and Pumas.
With all to play for, the second leg will against a team who did not lose at home in the entire regular season, against the competition's best away squad.