Watching Wednesday's Copa Libertadores match I couldn't help having the feeling that I was witnessing evidence. Not evidence in the sense of proving or disproving any of my theories of this Cruz Azul squad, but in the sense that this game was evidence in some match fixing scandal. So poor was the play of the majority of Cruz Azul's players that there seemed to be no other explanation. This is a team with many flaws, yet Wednesday revealed some gaping wounds. No, I don't actually think there was anything afoot in this match. I do think Cruz Azul are playing such horrendous football right now that they should petition to have their matches removed from live television broadcasts. No one needs to see this.
The cards were stacked against success in this match. Two of the four best players on the team, Javier Aquino and Nestor Araujo, are currently with Mexico's U-23 squad. After a tough loss to Santos on Saturday night, Cruz Azul traveled to Brazil midweek. The night before the match, Copa Libertadores scoring machine, Javier 'Chuleta' Orozco was hospitalized with appendicitis. Responding to these setbacks, Enrique Meza sent a lineup out that was less than ideal. Frankly, it was ugly. It was a defensive 3-5-2 of sorts with Adrian Cortes and Gerardo Flores playing the outside defenders/midfielders. One of the main issues with this is the inability for Cortes and Flores to actually defend (or to keep possession, really).
Considering the difficulties this match brought with gaps in the lineup, it was never going to be a glowing performance for Cruz Azul. The problem was that they shot way under that low bar. The entire first half played out like some kind of all-star skills competition. The Corinthians players were competing with each other to see who could slip one past the Corona (Jesus Corona). Eventually one of the many shots fired from Corinthians was going to find the net. It did in the 36th minute, when a free kick found an unmarked Danilo Gabriel who headed it home. Speaking of which, Manuel Mariaca, Nestor Araujo's replacement at center-back, not so much with the talent.
The second half didn't really improve my spirits much. Fausto Pinto received his second yellow card in the 71st minute. This was symptomatic of a defensive mode of play with a defense that proved itself to be slow and unresponsive. The play for Cruz Azul didn't pick up, surprisingly, until the final ten minutes of the match when it appeared that they were going to get the equalizing goal. Despite being down a man and looking completely ambivalent for the previous eighty minutes, they had several opportunities in front of the net. Chaco Giminez was amazing over this stretch, showing no fatigue at all. But ultimately this creative outburst came too late, and Cruz Azul were unable to punch it in.
It would be easy to dismiss this match as just a midweek tough situation for this Cruz Azul team. Yet, there are several things that can be taken away from this one. First, Jesus Corona is unbelievable. The Corinthians squad were basically taking target practice at him for the majority of the match. Corona came up huge in shutting down shot after shot. He could put together a resumé highlight reel from this match alone. Second, this team has absolutely no chance of advancing in the playoffs this season. After this afternoon's match with Puebla, Cruz Azul face San Luis, Queretaro, Toluca, and Tecos in that order. With that murder's row of matches, they will rebound in the standings (Puebla, San Luis, Queretero, and Tecos are the bottom four in the league). Despite currently sitting in 11th place, they are likely to get to 8th and the final playoff spot before the end of the season.
When Cruz Azul does start to collect more points from beating up on the dregs of the Primera Division they might look good. They might look like a team that is competent and a contender. Steel yourself against this. It will be fool's gold. This team is going nowhere.