By Dan Price
Tigres UANL beat Ecuadorian side Emelec 2-0 at El Volcan on Tuesday night to claim a 2-1 aggregate victory in the Copa Libertadores semifinals.
It is the first time since Chivas in 2010 that a side from Mexico has reached this stage of the competition, and Tigres join the aforementioned Chivas, along with Club America and Cruz Azul, as one of only four Liga MX sides to make it to the semis.
Mexican sides have reached the semis eight times since they started participating in the tournament in 1998, but the five year drought was becoming troublesome.
Tigres played in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, but boss Tuca Ferretti opted to play a youth side in the pre-group stage qualifier, and they crashed out in a 3-2 loss against Chilean minnows Union Española.
There have been no such mistakes this time round. Ferretti has played his first team in all but one game (the final group game, when progression was already assured). The two goals last night leave them as the top scorers in this season’s competition with 21 goals, and they look like a team that has the momentum and confidence.
The tournament now takes a two month break for the Copa America, and that gives Tigres some cause for concern. Aside from not playing any meaningful matches, the semi-finals will clash with the Gold Cup, meaning Tigres could be without midfield enforcer Jesus Dueñas and stand-in captain Hugo Ayala.
On a more positive note, they should at least be able to call on the services of Juninho for that game. The club captain has not played since December after picking up a ligament injury in training, but he was finally on the bench again last night. His defensive organization has been sorely missed and is undoubtedly one of the reasons Tigres lost so many games in the regular season. Also close to a return is Jose ‘Gringo’ Torres – he has also not played since the Apertura after undergoing surgery on a slipped disk, but reports emanating from the club suggest he could be fit for the semi-final.
The remaining quarter finals are scheduled to take place this week. Due to Copa Libertadores rules stating that two sides from the same country must play each other in the semis, the Monterrey-based club could yet play any one of Racing Club (ARG), Guarani (PAR), Internacional (BRA), or Santa Fe (COL).
The match itself couldn’t have gone more perfectly for Tigres. They managed to cancel out Emelec’s first leg goal inside the first five minutes after Rafael Sobis’ cross evaded everyone and sneaked in at the back post, before fan-favorite Jose Rivas headed home the second with ten minutes to play.
Whatever the semi-finals hold in store for Tigres, they can be very proud of their run in the competition. With the quality in their squad, you wouldn’t put it past them to become the first ever Mexican side to win the South American flagship competition.