No. 2 seed Tigres hold slim lead after first leg of Liga MX final against top-seeded León.
The Tigres dominated for long stretches of the match and they might regret not taking better advantage of the opportunities they created. The two teams will meet for the return match on Sunday in Estadio León.
Tigres right back Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez avoided a double team on the right flank then sent a diagonal through ball into the path of Luis Quiñones who made an overlapping run in to the box. Quiñones one-timed a left-footed shot from a sharp angle and León goalie Rodolfo Cota got a piece of it, but the deflection bounded to the back post where Gignac was unmarked and the Frenchman bounced a volley into the back of the net.
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The León defense looked a bit ragged during the first 45 minutes, allowing the Tigres to find space and time for shots (11 shots before halftime). In minute 24, Cota screamed at Ramiro González after the Argentine defender rolled an ill-advised back pass to the goalie, forcing Cota to kick the ball over his own end line. A few minutes later, right back Fernando Navarro nearly scored an own goal, awkwardly popping up a pass over the head of Cota where it banged off the post.
Cota made four other big saves before the whistle to keep the Esmeraldas in the match. At the other end, Tigres keeper Nahuel Guzmán made two shot blocks to prevent La Fiera from gaining any unearned momentum.
This marked the second consecutive playoff loss for León after a Clausura that saw them only lose twice in 17 regular-season games. Though coach Ignacio Ambriz is likely relieved to only be down 1-0, he must be concerned with the way the Esmeraldas have played the past two matches.
MVP candidate Angel Mena struggled again, neutralized by left back Jorge Torres Nilo and solid team defense. Mena was sent in alone by Joel Campbell just 4 minutes after Gignac’s goal, but the Ecuadorian winger hesitated, then unwisely tried to deke a fast-closing Guzmán. Mena did not even get a shot off.
Early in the second half, Mena made a blind back pass that released Gignac behind the León defense, but Andrés Mosquera recovered and blocked the shot attempt. The Tigres were in control once again for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but then León skipper Luis Montes dropped back deeper and was able to generate some offense for the Esmeraldas.
The green machine really missed striker José Juan Macías who left training camp earlier this week to report to Mexico’s Under-20 World Cup team in Poland. The absence of suspended midfielder Rubens Sambueza was also noticeable; coach Ambriz will be glad to have him back for the second leg.