Queretaro and Tigres leave it all for CONCACAF Champs Lge second leg
QUERETARO, Mexico -- Tigres and Queretaro finished with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the teams' CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. After the match, Tigres' head coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti took the time to praise Victor Manuel Vucetich's coaching career: "Vucetich is a great friend of mine, don't forget that he's already won three of these titles," he said.
Both Vucetich and Ferretti concluded that the "coin is in the air," and that either team could end up disputing the final with the winner of the semifinal tie between Club America and Santos Laguna. In the last weeks, Tigres has lost key players due to injury, while it has been unable to get wins or score goals. With Andre-Pierre Gignac and Rafael Sobis up top, Tigres hasn't scored a goal in the last 270 minutes.
Here are three takeaways from the Estadio Corregidora:
1. Tigres trying to find consistency
When Tigres players stepped off their yellow bus at Estadio Corregidora, the team was coming off three draws and one loss in recent matches. The loss happened in the 106th edition of the Monterrey Derby on March 5. For a team that had gotten accustomed to consecutive wins, Tigres' current state is one of confusion, especially after taking into account the series of injuries several of its key players have suffered.
Jorge Torres Nilo, Jesus Duenas and Israel Jimenez, all of whom are important players in Ferretti's XI, didn't make the trip to Queretaro because of injury. At minute 12, right-winger Jurgen Damm left the match, carried out on a stretcher, visibly in pain as he covered his eyes with both hands. The injury woes continued for Los Felinos as it tried to pick up a positive result in the first leg of the semifinals.
With Damm out of the picture, Tigres lacked innovation. Newcomers such as Lucas Zelarrayan tried to create surprising plays, as did Manuel Viniegra, who's been having constant playing time in the last week, but the Tigres attack couldn't break through.
In the 61st minute, Rafael Sobis stepped off the pitch with an apparent ankle injury, and the Tigres attack was reduced to Gignac and Javier Aquino. After Tuesday night's match, Gignac's scoring drought is now at three games, and surprisingly in those three matches, Tigres hasn't won.
Ferretti didn't demonstrate desperation with his movements on the sidelines or instructions. What bothered Ferretti was how physical Queretaro came into the match and how permissive referee Cesar Ramos was with each foul. Ramos only showed two yellow cards in the match, one for each side.
Tigres will need the help of its crowd come the second leg, because in the first leg, most of the team's attacking efforts came from individual plays, hardly any came from play resulting from team build-up, which should be worrisome.
2. Sinha, the ageless midfielder
Many young players in Queretaro's academy see 39-year-old midfielder Sinha as a role model to look up to. Former Gallos Blancos' midfielder Orbelin Pineda, now at Chivas, has said that Sinha embodied professionalism.
Sinha moves around the pitch always asking for the ball but never looking down. His head is always held up high because he wants to see the pass before he receives the ball. His age allows him to reproach his teammates when they commit a mistake. For Sinha, rushing a play is not an option, so whenever he sees a teammate rush it, he shows his frustration by effusively moving his arms and using decorative language.
Queretaro's No. 10 is an old-fashioned one, the kind the game rarely sees nowadays because the speed of play wouldn't allow the presence of a player with Sinha's qualities. The only ground he's supposed to cover is that in the final third, but he likes breaking the rules and likes to help out the defensive midfielders.
Sinha's passing skills were evident on Tuesday night, but Queretaro didn't have the right forwards in front of him. Edgar Benitez and Angel Sepulveda are forwards who are going to be able to score goals every now and then, but they don't have the hierarchy of an Emmanuel "Tito" Villa, who didn't dress for the first-leg due to injury. Villa has scored 17 times in CCL play. He was a big miss for Gallos Blancos.
When Vucetich decided to take him off the pitch near the end of the match, the fans got out of their seats and gave Sinha a huge ovation. The rousing send-off was mixed because the score read 0-0, but Queretaro's fans understand that there will not be another midfielder like Sinha in the coming years. He's a role model to many young footballers in Liga MX, and he knows it.
3. Queretaro will head to Monterrey with small advantage
The scoreless draw benefits Gallos Blancos ever so slightly. However, the result demands Vucetich's team score a goal at Tigres' Estadio Universitario. In two meetings against Tigres at Estadio Corregidora, Queretaro has managed to finish with two draws. It's a telling stat considering the team's dismal 2016 Clausura record of two wins, two draw and six losses.
Nevertheless the task at hand is a complicated one for Queretaro, who have played five away games in the Clausura and have only managed to score twice. Queretaro is the worst Liga MX team in that department.
"If we play like we did today, we have a good chance to advance [to the final]," said Vucetich after the match. The coach, who has led Monterrey to three CCL titles, appeared relaxed after the match and conveyed confidence about his team's chances.
He described Tuesday's 0-0 against Tigres as one of the best performances of the current year and warned that in the second leg, Villa will be fit enough to play.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.