By Dan Price
So it all comes down to this. After fourteen games against teams from across South America, Tigres and River Plate will go head-to-head for the fourth time in this season’s Copa Libertadores. The previous three meetings (two in the group stage and the first leg of the final last week) have all ended in draws. Something has to give tonight.
The winner will be crowned champions of Latin America. The loser will be proud but inconsolable. Defeat would be difficult to take for either club; for River to throw away the chance of a third Copa Libertadores title in front of their own fans would be unforgivable in the eyes of their loyal followers, for Tigres to miss the chance of becoming the first Mexican side to win it after such a strong tournament would be heart-breaking.
Tigres also know this is the best chance they will have in a long time. There is no guaranteeing when they will be back in the tournament – Mexico sends its Liguilla finalists to the CONCACAF Champions League – and an odd set of circumstances have to come together for a side to play in both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores in successive seasons. The last Mexican side to do it was (ironically) Tigres in 2012.
The fact River are playing the second leg at home is in itself contentious – they were the 16th seeds after the group stage, only sneaking through to the knockout rounds thanks to Tigres 5-4 win over Juan Aurich in Peru in the final game.
Tigres, on the other hand, qualified as the second seed – ultimately being promoted to top seed after Boca Juniors were thrown out for crowd trouble. Nonetheless, rules are rules, and a condition of Mexican sides’ entry is that the second leg of the final always has to be on South American soil.
The first leg in Tigres’ El Volcan stadium ended 0-0 last Wednesday. After the first 15 minutes Tigres were much the better side and could look back ruefully on a host of missed chances – the best of which fell to Jurgen Damm with just a couple of minutes remaining. They will hope they don’t regret those misses tonight.
It would be foolish to assume we will see the same River Plate this evening. They went to Monterrey with a game plan and executed it to perfection. In front of their own fans at El Monumental stadium, they will be a different proposition.
Despite that, the Tigres squad has plenty of big-game experience from the last twelve months, having played against Oaxaca in the Copa MX final at the end of the 2014 Clausura and against America in the 2014 Apertura final. They will be further buoyed by return of Javier Aquino – he was the standout player against Internacional and his inclusion would be a huge boost to Tigres’ attacking threat.
Joffre Guerron is also back in training and could feature, but Hugo Ayala will definitely miss the game after his injury in the first leg. Jose Rivas will take his place in defence.
Kick-off in Buenos Aires is at 9pm EDT