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Cruz Azul fights back to share the spoils with Pachuca

MEXICO CITY -- Pachuca wasted a two-goal lead and was held to a draw by a Cruz Azul second-string team. The Liga MX leaders responded in the final stretch of the game and came back to deny Enrique Meza's men the three points, which would have helped Pachuca take a major step toward a place in the playoffs.

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Enner Valencia put his team ahead on 57 minutes when he pounced on an error from Horacio Cervantes and Guillermo Allison before running through on goal to open the scoring. Five minutes later, he fired home a cross from Hirving Lozano past goalkeeper Allison, who started in place of first-choice goalkeeper Jesus Corona.

In the 87th minute, a penalty was awarded for a Miguel Herrera foul on Achille Emana. Christian "Chaco" Gimenez missed from the spot but scored on the rebound to take the score to 2-1. The equalizer came through Michael Farfan after Oscar "Conejo" Perez failed to hold on to the ball following a powerful shot by Emana.

The Hero: Emana. The player from Cameroon came on in the 60th minute as a substitute and had an immediate impact on Cruz Azul's attack. He was involved in both La Maquina goals -- first taken down in the box and later with a shot that Perez could not clear, leaving the goal wide open for Farfan to score the equalizer.

The Villain: Pachuca's back line. A lack of focus led to both Cruz Azul goals, as the back line was unable to respond following Perez's interventions, both on the penalty by Gimenez and Emana's shot that led to the equalizer.

Cruz Azul manager Luis Fernando Tena had one eye on his midweek CONCACAF Champions League final and fielded a second-string team made up almost entirely of reserves and youths, with the exception of Fausto Pinto, Gimenez, Pablo Barrera and Xavier Baez. The result was a cautious approach during the first half and a rather lackluster encounter attributable to the absence of Mauro Formica, Marco Fabian, Joao Rojas $amp; Co.

The absence of big-name players had a big effect on the team. Tena's men were not playing well and missed simple passes. Especially Barrera, who wandered without focus during the first half, trying to get on the ball around midfield and down the right flank. In the second period, Gimenez led the attack with individual effort. With the addition of Emana, the team gained more control and was able to restore parity.

Meza's team could not handle a rival made up almost entirely of reserve players. The team showed little creativity in the first period, despite having all their stars, mustering only three shots, which went wide of Allison's goal, and unable to cause grater damage.

In the second period, Valencia, Walter Ayovi and substitute Lozano on the right provided an attacking outlet as the team poured men forward. Once again, Pachuca's back line showed a lack of focus and let the three points slip from its grasp. Last week, Pachuca fell to Chivas 3-1 after the match was tied 1-1.

Cruz Azul will now face Toluca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, while Pachuca will hope for a win that would help it qualify for the liguilla playoffs. Cruz Azul remains the league leader, while the Tuzos await the outcome of the rest of the teams and could fall in the league table.