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Barça’s opponents in this year’s edition of the Joan Gamper Trophy are Pumas from Mexico (Sunday 7 August at 8.00pm CEST). Here’s a short introduction to a team that is visiting Spotify Camp Nou for the first time ever.
Where are they from?
Pumas are based in the Ciudad Universitaria (University City) of Mexico City, the enormous campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), whose many buildings include the 72,000 seater stadium used for 1968 Olympics, which is where Pumas play home matches.
The club was founded in 1954 as a student team, and is officially named the Club Universidad Nacional, or simply UNAM after the university. However, as is the case with many Mexican football clubs, they are more commonly referred to by their nickname, the ‘Pumas’.
By 1962 they were already playing in the first division, when the team began recruiting non-students and even foreigners, becoming Mexican champions for the first time in 1977.
In Hugo Sánchez they could boast arguably the greatest player the country has ever produced, and Pumas were soon established as one of the big three teams in the Mexican capital, along with América and Cruz Azul.
Other top players to come out of the club's famous youth system include Leonardo Cuéllar, Lucho Flores, Manuel Negrete, Jorge Campos and Héctor Moreno.
In total they have been Mexican champions on seven occasions, making them the sixth most successful team of all time, but it's been over a decade since their last title was won in 2011.
They have been Concacaf champions on three occasions, but not since 1989.
Playing at the Gamper is a very big deal for Pumas fans. Indeed, one of the club's proudest achievements was its victory over Real Madrid and its glácticos (Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Michael Owen, David Beckham...) in the 2004 Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu.
Mexican football features two separate tournaments, the Opening and the Closing Championships, which are both played as a regular league followed by playoffs.
UNAM finished eleventh in the 2022 Closing Championship, which was enough to earn a place in the wildcard playoffs, where they crashed out to Guadalajara.
They are now playing in the 2022 Opening Championship (which is indeed played after the 2022 Closing Championship, you are forgiven if you find this confusing!). After the first six games they are the only side that’s still undefeated, but as five of those matches have been draws, they are only in ninth place.
Just two weeks ago, Pumas faced another Liga side, the touring Celta Vigo in a friendly that ended 1-1.
Head to head
This is just the second time that Pumas have faced Barça. The only previous meeting was in front of 69,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium, where the touring FC Barcelona ran out easy winners, 6-1 with goals from Jesús María Pereda, José Antonio Zaldúa (3), Cayetano Ré and Vicente González.
This is only the second time that a Mexican side has featured at the Gamper. Club Leon were the guests in 2014 and were soundly beaten 6-0.
The most recognisable face in the Pumas squad is naturally Dani Alves, who following his one-season return to Barça is now enjoying his first experience of the Liga MX.
Other new faces in the squad are goalkeeper Gil Alcalá, defender Adrián Aldrete, midfielder César Huerta and former Atlético Madrid striker Eduardo 'Toto' Salvio, who arrives from Boca Juniors. The latter, together with Alves, bring some experience into an extraordinarily young side.
Dani Alves (Brazil, 124), Adrián Aldrete (Mexico, 20), Eduardo Salvio (Argentina, 14), Efraín Velarde (Mexico, 9), Arturo Ortiz (Mexico, 1)
Andrés Lillini only played a handful of games for Newell's Old Boys in his native Argentina before going into coaching, ending up in charge of the Pumas reserves. In 2020, and following the resignation of Real Madrid legend Michel, he became caretaker manager of the first team. He has been there ever since.
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