BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Cruz Azul were held 2-2 at bottom of the table UNAM Pumas but it was enough to seal a Mexican Apertura championship playoff quarter-final with Toluca.
The Blue Machine went two up at the Olimpico in Mexico City on Sunday with goals from Argentine striker Mariano Pavone after 49 minutes and Christian Gimenez three minutes later.
But the Pumas hit back with late goals from Roberto Ramirez after 74 minutes and Alfonso Nieto on 84, leaving Cruz Azul in fourth place in the final league standings, from which the top eight qualify for the knockout rounds.
Cruz Azul will meet fifth-placed Toluca, who boast the championship’s top scorer in Paraguayan Pablo Velazquez with 12 goals, in the quarter-finals with the first legs scheduled for November 23 and 24.
The other last-eight clashes have defending champions America, who finished top of the league table, facing eighth-placed UANL Tigres, Santos Laguna against Queretaro and former Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez’s Leon meeting Morelia.
“We’re not afraid of America, we have gone to the Azteca stadium before and won, although we’ve had more trouble at home,” Tigres’ Mexico defender Carlos Salcido told reporters.
Tigres recently handed America one of their two defeats in the 17 matches of the league phase with a 1-0 victory at home but the champions were under strength.
The start of the title knockout rounds was purposely scheduled for after the second leg of Mexico’s intercontinental World cup playoff against New Zealand on November 20.
Mexico face the playoff, with the first leg on Wednesday, under America’s coach Miguel Herrera who will return to his club side in time for the quarter-finals.
When Herrera was appointed to the national team on October 18, on loan from his club, he took ten America players with him for the Mexico squad, the champions having already secured their last-eight place.
Tijuana, who won their first ever league title in the Apertura a year ago, lost all chance of sneaking into the last eight when they crashed 5-0 at Leon, whose Argentine striker Mauro Boselli scored four.
The border town club and their Argentine coach Jorge Almiron parted ways by mutual consent on Sunday, Tijuana said in a statement.
Reporting by Carlos Calvo; Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Tony Goodson