An uninspired Tigres team lost its first-leg match against Costa Rica’s Saprissa in the Concacaf Champions League.
The Tigres traveled to Costa Rica and played like they didn’t really want to be in San José. It was little surprise that Saprissa made them pay, but only slightly.
Johan Venegas scored on a header in minute 73 to give the underdogs a key 1-0 win at home. The return match takes place next Tuesday in Monterrey.
Tigres coach Tuca Ferretti is not shy about showing his disdain for international competitions (and the Copa MX, too, for that matter) and his players seemed to share Tuca’s attitude.
The front three of Enner Valencia, Edu Vargas and Julian Quiñónes were in poor form. Valencia and Vargas both played with a “what do I care” posture and though neither is known as a helper on defense, they both took great care not to waste energy helping win the ball back.
Valencia flubbed a 1-on-1 with the goalie as Aaron Cruz made a fine save. And if Valencia had simply looked to his left, he had two unmarked teammates with an open look at goal. Later, on a 2-on-1 break, Valencia held the ball way too long and Cruz came off his line to deflect his pass.
Vargas occasionally worked his way into an open look, but he inevitably blasted his shot way over the crossbar. Meanwhile, Quiñones spent way too much time dribbling and not enough time looking for the open man.
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The Tigres enjoyed the better opportunities through much of the match (63% possession), getting off 24 shots, 9 of them on target. Still, Saprissa was able to find time and space, particularly when the visitors would get bored chasing the ball. Lanky striker Rubilio Castillo created some difficulty in front of net, in part because Tigres defender Hugo Ayala had a poor game. To be fair, Ayala is coming off an injury and is not in top shape yet.
In minute 73, Saprissa took a corner kick, playing it short to Mariano Torres who quickly fired in a low cross that soared over the scrum in the middle of the box where Venegas rose above Jorge Torres Nilo and headed powerfully past Nahuel Guzmán.
The Tigres’ performance was quite reminiscent of their quarterfinal loss to Toronto FC last year. The Liga MX powerhouse simply did not seem to respect Saprissa, playing as if they could just toss their jersey on the pitch and their opponent would fall over. The team played with little passion, were not decisive with the ball, failed to create space away from the ball and were just not fundamentally sound. Lackadaisacal passing slowed down the offense and limited opportunities.
If the Tigres play with the same overconfidence and ennui, Saprissa has a chance to eliminate them next week.
Toronto was last year’s losing finalist, falling to the Chivas on penalty kicks. The Reds defeated the Tigres and América en route to the Final. Against a determined Independiente side, Greg Vanney’s lads were blown away.
John Molinaro, chief soccer reporter at SportsNet, wrote an excellent game report.
Three more Concacaf Champions League matches are on tap for Wednesday night: New York Red Bulls at Atlético Pantoja (Dominican Republic); Santos Laguna at Marathón (Honduras); and, Monterrey at Alianza (El Salvador).
Two matches are scheduled for Thursday: Toluca at Sporting Kansas City; and, Atlanta United at Herediano (Costa Rica).