Pumas pounce on Clausura crown
The 31 May 2009 will live long in the memory of everyone involved with Pumas, who collected the sixth Mexican league title of their illustrious history after overcoming Pachuca 3-2 over two legs in the Clausura 2009 final.
And the competition finale could barely have been more dramatic. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Los Auriazules had been pegged back after 90 minutes of the return, a 2-1 success for Pachuca forcing the decider into extra time. With their opponents down to ten men, Pumas moved 3-2 in front on aggregate through Pablo Barrera's 107th-minute strike and held on to send their supporters into a frenzy of celebration.
At the competition's midway point, Pumas coach Ricardo Ferreti had caused a stir by claiming that the club's purpose was to produce talented players as opposed to winning titles - a statement that in hindsight helped ease the pressure on his charges and distracted their rivals. After recovering from a shaky start, Pumas were solid at the back and clinical going forward, all without forgoing their tradition of bringing through home-grown players. Indeed, no fewer than seven of the club's youth products took the field during the Liguilla (end-of-season play-offs) final.
Runners-up Pachuca can also hold their heads high. Thanks to an inspired campaign from forward Christian Gimenez, Los Tuzos finished the regular season with the best overall record before battling their way through to the Liguilla decider, which will go down as one of the most dramatic in Mexican football history.
Having figured among the expected relegation candidates pre-season, six months later Puebla and Indios had not only cemented their top-flight status but set a fine example for other low-budget teams to follow. After witnessing their beloved sides go all the way to the Liguilla semi-finals, it was a season to remember for supporters of both clubs.
Though this year's Clausura was a landmark one for many of the country's smaller clubs, it was quite the opposite for three of Mexico's 'big four', of which only Pumas lived up to their billing. The others, Guadalajara, America and Cruz Azul, all flattered to deceive, with the latter's last-placed regular-season finish a particular disappointment after ending runners-up in both the Clausura and Apertura tournaments in 2008.
The star men
Pumas found the right blend of up-and-coming youngsters and established performers at just the right time. Among the old guard were Leandro Augusto, arguably the competition's outstanding individual, Dario Veron, Sergio Bernal and Francisco Palencia, while the likes of Efrain Velarde, Efrain Juarez and final hero Barrera are all names to look out for in the future.
Another with a strong case for being the Clausura's most influential player was Pachuca's Argentinian star Gimenez. The heart and soul of his team, El Chaco was the driving force behind a title tilt that was only undone at the bitter end. Aided and abetted by gifted youngsters such as Jose Cardenas, Paul Aguilar and Francisco Torres, Gimenez and Co should be a force again come the Apertura 2009.
The leading marksman
For the second short tournament in a row, Toluca's Chilean Hector Mancilla finished atop the goalscoring charts. Los Diablos' No9 left it late to overtake two fellow internationals, Paraguay's Salvador Cabanas and Mexico's Miguel Sabah, with a five-goal burst in his final two regular-season games proving decisive.
Did you know?
Including this season, Mexican big-spenders America have now gone four short tournaments without reaching the end-of-season Liguilla. The run is one of the worst in Los Azulcremas' history.
What they said
"It was really intense, it's something you can't explain. Fortunately the goals came for us and we're champions. It tastes that much better when you've suffered, when the odds are against you: winning the trophy feels great like this. This was a title won by a lot of grit and a lot of heart," Pumas striker Dante Lopez
Semi-finalists: Indios and Puebla