Tigres beat Leon to lift another Liga MX title but respect between fans was more notable than the game
LEON, Mexico -- The highlight of Sunday's Liga MX 2019 Clausura final second leg wasn't Tigres lifting the trophy in Estadio Leon. It wasn't even the guy dressed as a lion -- Leon is "lion" in Spanish -- who whisked off his huge head and proposed to his girlfriend ahead of kickoff outside the stadium, or the ice-lolly seller that discussed flavors with French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. And don't mention the 0-0 draw itself, which wasn't anywhere near as entertaining as was expected.
What really stood out on Sunday in Leon was the sense of fair play and respect that surrounded the end of the game.
In an age of internet trolls, the death of real debate and an increasing sense of division, it was refreshing that at the final whistle on Sunday, there were no boos, no beer thrown down from the stands and no sign of that tinderbox atmosphere you sometimes find at big games, especially in Latin America. Instead, the Leon crowd chanted their team's name on the final whistle and stayed behind for the ceremony that saw Tigres lift their seventh Liga MX trophy.
When Gignac turned to acknowledge and applaud the section of the stadium where Leon's "Los Lokos de Arriba" barra brava were located, they returned the courtesy.
But the real highlight came outside the stadium. There, 15-year-old Leon fan Victor and five friends waited for Tigres fans to leave. But this wasn't teenagers causing trouble after what had been a frustrating 90 minutes, in which Leon pushed hard to open the deadlock in the 0-0 draw. Instead, they clapped, shook hands with Tigres fans, wished them a safe journey back north to Monterrey and sung the famous Jose Alfredo Jimenez folk song: "[In Leon] you wager your life, and you respect the victor."
Victor said: "They had a good tournament, they deserved it, it's a part of football. In the end, it's a game of football to be enjoyed, but sometimes things don't go right and they are the champions.
How many people in the game could take heed from those wise words?
Prior to kickoff, the atmosphere had built into a cauldron around Estadio Leon. Cars drove up and down the street outside the stadium, horns were honking and green flags were waved by people hanging out of windows. Leon is a city with only one soccer club and you could feel everyone was pulling in one direction. The stadium was full an hour before kickoff as Leon attempted to overcome the 1-0 deficit from the first leg. But after Leon's initial burst in the first 10 minutes, Tigres largely controlled the encounter, at least until the desperate last 15 minutes, when Leon threw caution to the wind and piled forward.
Both teams looked tired. This wasn't a final that will go down in history; Leon fans and coach "Nacho" Ambriz could justifiably lament the absences of striker Juan Jose Macias -- who is at the Under-20 World Cup -- and Angel Mena, who was taken off after 32 minutes with an injury.
Leon didn't let up but there was a lack of depth of quality in the final third, something Ambriz and the club will likely have to fix in the offseason, even though reaching the final and topping the regular season standing is a huge achievement in this Clausura campaign.
Meanwhile, for Tigres, this was the latest crowning moment in the greatest period of success the club has ever gone through. Just 10 years ago this month the team was on the brink of relegation, now they are undoubtedly Liga MX's "team of the decade." And Gignac wants more.
"I want to win the [CONCACAF Champions League], I want another title," the 33-year-old told reporters afterward. "I've got two years left on my contract and in two years we have four [short format] tournaments and my objective is to win two more and if we can, four."
Another title would also be special for Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti because it would take him past Ignacio Trelles as the most successful coach in Liga MX history on eight titles. But Ferretti didn't speak after his team's defensive masterclass after the game, instead undergoing the usual removal of his moustache that has followed his team's title victories.
It was a joyous night for everyone involved with Tigres but for the neutrals, in truth, it will go down as a final to forget. What it did reaffirm is that in an era of increased antagonism in soccer and perhaps also society, there's still room to respect and congratulate the opposition.