The Tigres have one foot in the Concacaf Champions League Final after trouncing Santos 3-0 in the first leg of their semifinal series.
Edu Vargas scored eight minutes after kickoff and Enner Valencia added two more before halftime as the host Tigres took a giant step toward reaching their third Concacaf Champions League Final. The two teams will play the return leg in Torreón on April 10.
No doubt, Santos will feel aggrieved because an apparent offside on the first goal was not whistled, but the Tigres seemed destined to score … and they did.
Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzmán played a brilliant second half to keep the clean sheet, frustrating visiting Santos with 7 saves. Santos keeper Jonathan Orozco also made several spectacular saves to prevent the margin from getting even bigger.
The Tigres dominated the first half (68% possession) and employed a patient offense that exploited their quickness in attack and Santos coach Salvador Reyes did not have any answers. The Tigres opened by passing the ball around the back, occasionally probing through the middle with short passes, while looking to chip the ball over the Santos back line and allow their speedy forwards to race into scoring position.
Eight minutes in, Julián Quiñones appeared to be offside when defender Carlos Salcedo chipped the ball over the Santos back line and created a 2-on-0. Quiñones caught up to the pass, dribbled into the box and fired a low shot that Orozco blocked right into the path of Vargas who tapped home for the 1-0 lead. Santos skipper José Abella argued loudly for the offside call, but ref Ismail Elfath waved him off.
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Santos briefly showed some offense over the next 10 minutes, but Ayrton Preciado and Diego Valdés fired high from distance, before Valdés scuffed a shot right at Guzmán from inside the box. The Tigres regained control of the match and began yo-yoing the ball around the field, forcing Santos to chase. At the 24-minute mark Santos striker Julio Furch nearly got the equalizer as he got a touch on a long, 50-meter pass but Guzmán was in position to block the shot. Two minutes later, a Santos foray into their offensive third produced a Preciado shot that Nahuel batted away on the fly.
Before Santos had even trotted back on defense, the Tigres had scored their second. Guzmán had turned the ball quickly upfield and right back Chaka Rodríguez got down the flank before lofting a pinpoint cross into the box where Valencia had shaken his marker. The Ecuadorian rose high to meet the cross and thumped it into the ground and it bounced over Orozco into the roof of the net.
The Tigres continued to find success with their tactical approach and Julián Quiñones again got free in the box after a chip over the Santos back line, but he was unable to get a shot off before defender Dória recovered to snuff out the play.
In minute 37, Salcedo ignited another scoring opportunity, dribbling forward then sending a sharp diagonal pass to Luis Quiñones on the right side. The Colombian dribbled past Santos left back Jesús Angulo and sent a low cross toward the goalie box. Before Orozco could react, Valencia had split the central defenders and slotted home with a toe poke.
It was 3-0 at halftime, but Santos did not lie down in the second half. Coach Reyes sent in 3 offensive substitutes during the final 45 minutes and the visitors deserved to score, but Nahuel was not playing gracious host.
But first, Orozco made two fantastic saves in quick succession to keep Santos from sagging with 25 minutes still remaining. Then it was Guzmán’s turn. The big Argentine keeper smothered a right-footed blast by Marlos Moreno. A few minutes later, sub Diener Quiñonez smacked a low shot that Guzmán parried around the post with his left mitt. Five minutes later, Guzmán blocked an angled shot by Javier Correa.
The Tigres will be trying to reach their third CCL final in the past four years when they visit Santos next Wednesday. The other semifinal pits Monterrey against MLS club Sporting Kansas City.