By Dan Price
Tigres UANL produced one of the Liga MX’s finest footballing displays of the season to walk away as comfortable 3-0 winners in the first leg of the Liguilla on Thursday night.
A penalty from Andre-Pierre Gignac, a wonderful curling effort from Javier Aquino, and a tap in by Rafael Sobis sealed the win, as Pumas UNAM struggled to get to grips with the fluidity and dynamism of the host’s front four.
Tigres started as much the brighter side, with Gignac having already forced Pumas’ keeper Alejandro Palacios into a top save before Sobis was bundled over by Javier Cortes in the 15th minute for the opening spot kick.
Aquino bent in the second from a wide angle ten minutes later, and thereafter Pumas looked beaten. When Sobis rolled in the third midway through the second half, you got the sense that Tigres’ name was already being engraved on the Liga MX trophy.
Predictably, the crowd were ferocious and passionate throughout. No club in the country can match the fanatical nature of the Tigres faithful, as every goal was celebrated with flying beer and fireworks, every misplaced Pumas pass was greeted with whistles and jeers.
Pumas now have a mountain to climb. In the Liguilla they’ve looked a shadow of the side that cruised to the summit of the regular season table, shipping three goals in each of their last two games and struggling to find the form that saw them end with the division’s second best defence after seventeen games. They’ve now lost three of their five post-season games, and the fact they’re in the final at all is being treated as a miracle by some sections of their support.
Ominously for the Mexico City side, the only side that outperformed Pumas defensively in the regular season was Ferretti’s Tigres. The Monterrey-based side are unbeaten in 12 in all competitions and have lost just two of their last 22. In the post-season they’ve scored eight and conceding only one, and they’re now on a four-game clean sheet streak. The idea that Pumas will score at least three times to force extra time is fanciful at best.
Nonetheless, should Sunday’s second leg go as predicted and see Tigres walk away as champions, Pumas should still hold their heads high. Back in July no one predicted them as Liguilla finalists, and they can at least take comfort in looking forward to both a Copa Libertadores campaign and a CONCACAF Champions League campaign in 2016. The experience of this post-season will have given the squad a new level of know-how, and they should come back stronger in the Clausura.
Sunday’s second leg kicks off at 9:30pm ET.