Despite their highly-anticipated encounter petering out into a 0-0 draw, both Cruz Azul and Tijuana found positives as they try to meet contrasting goals.
TIJUANA, Mexico -- Two clubs with strikingly different ambitions found themselves paired up on Sunday afternoon with only a point separating them – Cruz Azul was looking to keep in touch with the Clausura's top performers while Tijuana was looking to bounce back from a disappointing Apertura campaign and extend its stay in the top flight.
After 90 minutes, though, the two teams found themselves locked at 0-0 and discovering plenty of room to improve in the chase of their respective goals.
"The purpose was to take three points back with us, but I believe the result is fair because neither were we capable of putting in a good offensive performance," Cruz Azul head coach Enrique Meza.
The draw allowed Cruz Azul to remain unbeaten in the Clausura, albeit having only won twice in six games so far. It was also the first time since Oct. 26 that the team has failed to score. After the game, Cruz Azul midfielder Alejandro Castro admitted to reporters that there was plenty for the capital side to improve on despite the unbeaten streak.
"The streak has to be analyzed from various points of view," Castro explained. "That means there is an equilibrium in general, defensively, but we also have to think of the things we have to do better at. Above all, the team looks to me like it is doing well."
Cruz Azul overcame its first half struggles to put in a much-improved second half, and it had opportunities, but none which a front line led by Omar Bravo and Edixon Perea could convert. Despite starting all six of Cruz Azul's games, Bravo has failed to find the net and has only gone the full 90 minutes once. In the encounter with Tijuana, Bravo missed a golden chance after opposition goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo gifted him the ball and was substituted in the 83rd minute.
However, Meza believes there is plenty more to come from his veteran striker.
"To miss you have to be there, and sometimes one makes a change to take a better direction," Meza said, highlighting Bravo's positioning and explaining his decision to substitute the striker. "Yes he missed it and he hasn't been able to score a goal, but he will do it soon, his performances have been better."
Of course, Tijuana had opportunities of its own to close out the match, having had the better of the first half and one gilt-edged chance at the end spurned by midfielder Egidio Arevalo.
"I believe the team had a good moment, when we had to attack on the wings we could do it, when we could attack through the middle we did, I believe that today we missed that last little pass," Arevalo told reporters of his team's overall performance.
However, with the game well into second-half injury time, Leandro Fernandez swung in a good cross from the right that found Arevalo at his feet near the penalty spot, only for the wide-open midfielder to put his first-time finish well over Jose de Jesus Corona's goal.
""It was a very quick play, in the area where Leandro [Fernandez] cut back on the wing, Raul [Enriquez] let it by and I arrived at the penalty spot and I lifted the ball too much, something that you don't want to happen in those instances, but that's the way soccer is, it happens and you have to keep your head up."
Despite the misses, new Tijuana signing Duvier Riascos downplayed the team's inability to get the win, highlighting a draw against one of Mexico's top teams as a good result.
"The draw is good, to take away a point has been good. We hope the team continues working and giving its best," he said. "Yes, yes, [a win] would have been a very important moment for us, for the people that come to support us. We could have secured a more important result, but this is also good."
Tijuana defender Joshua Abrego shared a similar sentiment, pointing out the positive qualities of the team's performance against a side that has qualified for the playoffs in four out of the last five seasons.
"I like the attitude, the energy the team had, we did not give up, and we knew that at any point the victory could have come, but either way, there were are fighting and working to keep improving," Abrego enthused.
Sunday's draw also threw up an interesting, if unpleasant statistic for Tijuana. While the majority of teams in Mexico play on Saturday, with a handful of games reserved for Friday and Sunday, Tijuana has played 11 of its 23 top flight games on Sunday, and has won none of them.
Asked if the team's frequent Sunday appearances were a curse, Abrego replied, "I don't know if it is a curse or not but there are no results. Obviously we always want to win every game at whatever hour, home or away, but either way, we know that at some time we will start to win."
Tijuana is back in action next Saturday at Queretaro, while Cruz Azul hosts Pumas UNAM on the same day.
Eric Gomez contributed additional reporting to this article from Tijuana, Mexico.