Heading into halftime of last night's Copa Libertadores match at Estadio Azul, things got interesting. The visiting team, Libertad of Paraguay, was heading in to the locker rooms. Unfortunately, for them, they were down a goal and were now targets. Normally, giant inflatable train-shaped tunnels escort the players, coaches, and referees into the locker rooms. For Copa Libertadores matches the tunnels are gone and the air filled security blanket is missing. The fans acknowledged this and rained the Paraguayan squad with beer cups, pizza boxes, and free game programs. Just one hour later the crowd would repeat this same ritual, but the targets were no longer the visitors. The target had now become Cruz Azul's manager, Enrique Meza.
Cruz Azul coming off a heartbreaking draw with America only 50 hours prior were understandably in bad shape for this fixture with Libertad. Meza's lineup reflected this, as it was truly an ugly sight. Alberto Rodriguez and Hector Altamirano were brought up from Cruz Azul Hidalgo, dusted off, and tossed in to the starting lineup. Javier Aquino, despite not playing the full 90 on Sunday was out with a shoulder injury. Cruz Azul's play failed to live up to the low expectations that the lineup and fatigue set. The play of the midfield resembled a landfill on a hot summer day. Alberto Rodriguez was a liability on the field. He did nothing but lose possession and absorb passes that should have gone to players who could do something with the ball. In his younger days, Rodriguez apparently made some appearances for El Tri. Being that this is the first game I have ever seen him play, I am going to cut him some slack. He must have been talented at some point in his career. He is not now. Israel Castro and Chaco Giminez were forced to play a full ninety minutes. They were largely ineffective and appeared to be drained for much of the match. Castro had his worst performance in a Cruz Azul uniform last night. The situation became even more perilous for Cruz Azul in the 10th minute. Jesus Corona took a knee to the face in a collision with an opponent. He was unconscious on the turf and was subbed out for Non-Corona, Yosgart Gutierrez. Despite these setbacks, Cruz Azul was the superior team for much of the night. I am no expert on Paraguayan football, but this Libertad squad did not look great. It is likely that they were not in their best form last night either. However, with such a weak and limping collection of Cruz Azul players on the pitch, one would think that the opposition would be able to take advantage. They looked like they never would. Cruz Azul was the team that struck first. Maranhao headed the ball perfectly to Orozco, who was able to punch it in from short range. Cruz Azul took that one goal advantage in to halftime. It was abundantly clear at halftime how lucky Cruz Azul were to have any advantage at all. Their opposition was kind enough to match them in pitiful play. Meza needed to make some changes, but he had already lost one substitution on his goalkeeper. When Meza brought in Alejandro Vela with thirty minutes remaining, Cruz Azul were clearly in trouble. This was not because of the entering of Vela, but that Maranhao was taken off the field while Alberto Rodriguez remained. This likely meant that Rodriguez would be playing the entire match. This was a problem. Minutes later, Libertad were able to equalize. Non-Corona came out of goal to punch a cross that he was unable to reach. Classic Non-Corona. Libertad's weak header bounced into an empty goal and the Paraguayans found the away-goal they needed. Emanuel Villa came on with that goal stoppage to bring added hope to the home faithful. Villa got the perfect opportunity to regain the lead, after Orozco set him up perfectly ten yards out. Villa blasted the ball over the bar and failed in Azul's best remaining goal opportunity. Libertad parked the bus in front of the goal happy with the draw. The game would end 1-1. The hisses from the crowd arrived moments after the final whistle. The team played horribly and conceded their home advantage to the Paraguayans. They will now need to win next week in Paraguay to advance to the next round of the tournament (a high scoring draw would also get it done). The home fans saved their true displeasure for the man that sent that suspect lineup onto the field. As Meza covered his head and headed to the dressing rooms, debris poured down on him. A long week now awaits in preparation for the match in Paraguay. Meza might also be served in preparing his résumé.