Ricardo Ferretti guides Tigres to epic victory in first-ever Clasico Regio finale
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Tigres defeated Monterrey 2-1 to lift their sixth Liga MX crown against their local rivals after an epic final on Sunday. Tigres won the series 3-2 on aggregate over the two legs.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
1. Tigres spoil Monterrey's party
Monterrey came into the second leg in a strong position. Coach Antonio Mohamed had said after the 1-1 tie in Thursday's first leg that he would've been happy to have taken the opportunity to win one home game to be crowned champion. Rayados had scored 27 goals and conceded five all season at home and won all their matches aside from a draw against Santos Laguna.
But then, this Tigres side isn't most Liga MX teams.
Everything was set up for a classic final and that is what these two Clasico Regio rivals provided, with Tigres narrowly getting over the line in an even series.
Monterrey struck first. A long ball from Cesar Montes into Rogelio Funes Mori was directed into the path of Dorlan Pabon, who struck from outside the box to hand Monterrey the lead in the second minute.
The 50,000-plus capacity crowd celebrated wildly and it looked as though Rayados would be able to roll over Tigres, especially with center-back partnership Francisco Meza -- who replaced the suspended Hugo Ayala -- and Juninho not looking totally convincing.
But Tigres dug deep. The momentum in the game shifted gradually to the away team as the first half wore on, although Monterrey maintained a major threat on the counter.
The reward came on the half hour mark, when Chilean Eduardo Vargas guided a shot in from the edge of the penalty area. Monterrey keeper Hugo Gonzalez -- with Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio watching on -- probably should've done better.
Five minutes later, Monterrey's defensive organization, which had been the basis of a near perfect campaign, crumbled. Rafael Carioca received a short corner and, given all the time to swing in a cross, found the head of Meza, who was also completely free to finish and put Tigres 2-1 up.
The game turned almost full circle in the second half. Tigres were on the back foot and Monterrey -- usually a counter-attacking side -- took the initiative and pinned the away team back.
Monterrey pressed and eventually seemed to have its reward when a challenge on Jorge Benitez was deemed to be a penalty. But in the decisive moment of the final, Colombian Aviles Hurtado -- the best Liga MX player in 2017 -- blasted the penalty high and wide.
2. Ferretti's stock rises even more
"Distinct" was how Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti described the Clasico Regio final and this will be right up there with the very best moments of the veteran's coaching career. With the title in the bag it is now appropriate to talk about Ferretti establishing a dynasty at Tigres. It's now three Liga MX titles in three years for the club, which is especially impressive given the playoff system and the relative parity of Liga MX.
There was also some pressure on Ferretti. Tigres had lost a CONCACAF Champions League final and a Liga MX final in 2017, but fans would probably argue that winning against arch-rival Monterrey makes it all worth it.
The Brazilian now has six Liga MX titles as a coach and is behind only Ignacio Trelles on seven as the winningest manager in the history of the Mexican game.
Ferretti took over the club in 2010 and has a contract until 2020. Everything points to him becoming the most successful manager in Mexico's first division before he retires. What he is achieving is truly historic.
3. The first of more Clasico Regio finals?
It'd be a smart wager to put some pesos on this historic first Clasico Regio final not being the last in the next couple of years. And that is good for Liga MX.
The final and everything around it brought a fresh flavor to the event. Fans of the two Nuevo Leon clubs have a chip on their shoulder about not being considered a "grande" and people from Mexico City and the center of Mexico not paying as much attention to what happens up north as they should. But the final was a conclusive reminder that the Monterrey metropolitan area is Mexico's best soccer city and that, right now, the Clasico Regio is the country's best rivalry and game.
The setting was particularly fitting for the most important match in the history of the city. Estadio BBVA Bancomer is slated to be a venue for the 2026 World Cup and Mexico's newest stadium, with the Cerro de la Silla rising from one end, wouldn't look out of place as a UEFA Champions League stadium, although the pitch itself needs improving.
The atmosphere surrounding the game was as good as you'll find in North America and could perhaps rival better-known rivalries in South America and Europe. The fact 36,000 turned up for Tigres' training session on Saturday tells part of that story.
There were concerns about the prospect of violence, but Tigres fans were sat next to Rayados fans in the stands and there was a lot of good-spirited humor in the build-up.
The other factor that stood out was the sheer quality on display. Tigres (CEMEX) and Monterrey (FEMSA) are funded by a couple of companies that are economic powerhouses and they have poured money into their respective teams. Internationals from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and France were on display.
The feeling is that some of Mexico's big clubs -- especially Club America and Pumas -- as well as the rest of the chasing pack can't easily compete financially.
The Clasico Regio final set the bar high for future editions and very few neutrals would be disappointed to see a repeat next season.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.