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Leon defeats Tigres to book ticket to the Liga MX Final

Leon get the 2-1 victory they needed to win their semifinal draw and get to the Liga MX Final.

Leon v Tigres UANL - Playoffs Torneo Grita Mexico A21 Liga MX Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images

Leon got a 2-1 victory over Tigres, punching their ticket to the Liga MX Final. Leon bounced back from their first leg loss, getting a win by the same score that gets them through by their better regular season record. Tigres bounced back from an early goal to get the tie that would have gotten them through but Tigres made defensive substitutions that caused the team to sit back which ended up costing them. Leon will now wait for tonight’s match to see who they face and when. Should Atlas get through, Leon will open the final at home and close out in Guadalajara; should Pumas qualify, they will have the second leg at home in a repeat of the 2020 Apertura Final of a year ago.

The first half started with Leon coming out with Jean Meneses from the start. A minute in, a harsh foul from Rafael Carioca on Santiago Colombatto caused a scuffle. Leon players went against Carioca, claiming he kicked Colombatto in the face and replays showed he didn’t connect but might have tried. Then after a scramble in the area, it looked like a Leon attacker was brought down by Luis Quiñones but nothing was called. The play continued, and Angel Mena got the ball and got off a right footed shot past Tigres’ goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman for the 1-0 lead. The fall had distracted the Tigres’ defense and allowed for the opportunity to score. Leon looked to have scored again after Victor Davila got a left footed shot, but the ball was correctly ruled to be offside. Leon continued to pressure a Tigres team that looked rattled. Yet against the run of play, Tigres got a free kick and took advantage of it. Tigres surprised the hosts by finding a wide open Nicolas Lopez, who then send a great cross into the area and Diego Reyes made and incredible volley shot that went past Leon’s goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota for the 1-1 equalizer. In Tigres’ first opportunity, they took advantage to get themselves back in the aggregate lead. The goal started to boost Tigres’ attacks, although Leon kept having dangerous counters. Tigres had a great chance when a great pass into the area found Andre-Pierre Gignac, but his close range shot went just wide. Leon then had a chance when Guzman tried to clear a ball, yet allowing Davila to stick his left leg out and connect with it, but the deflection went wide. Leon continued to attack looking for that winning goal, but Tigres looked solid defensively and is always dangerous on their counters. There was a scary moment off a free kick, when Tigres’ defenders Reyes and Jesus Sanchez had a clash of heads that needed medical attention. The independent concussion doctor forced the players to go off, but Gignac protested them not having the two defenders for a corner kick and they went in, violating the rules. There was no action when the halftime whistle blew, except from Leon players because of what happened between Gignac and the doctor.

The second half started with Tigres subbing out Nicolas Lopez for Carlos Gonzalez. Tigres had a chance when a shot by Luis Quiñones went just wide. Leon then subbed out Santiago Colombatto for Fernando Navarro. Later Mena got into the area and his left footed shot went just wide. Tigres then subbed out Luis Rodriguez and Luis Quiñones for Aldo Cruz and Jesus Dueñas. A cross into the area found Davila, who got a left footed shot that forced Guzman to make a good save. Leon continued to push for a goal, and Tigres decided to go all defensive. Tigres subbed out Andre-Pierre Gignac and Juan Pablo Vigon for Raymundo Fulgencio and David Ayala. Leon went with an offensive move and subbed out Osvaldo Rodriguez for Luis Montes. After a ball fell in the area, Andres Mosquera got a chance from close range that went wide. The changes meant that Leon would wind up having most of the possession while Tigres sat back which, is exactly what started to happen. Leon wasted an incredible chance when a header into the area found Meneses wide open, but his one time volley went right into the hands of Guzman. Tigres responded with a shot from the halfway line that almost went into the area, but bounced out in what almost was one of the best goals of the tournament. Leon then answered with an incredible run of attacks that twice were saved by Guzman and the Tigres defense. Finally the ball fell for Meneses, who got off a cross that was deflected into the area, and Angel Mena got the header from close range to grab the 2-1 lead. Mena headed the ball almost on the goal line for a sure goal. During the celebrations of goal, Leon’s assistant Sebastian Maz celebrated in front of the Tigres’ bench, which started a huge scuffle and by the time it was over, 3 red cards had been shown: one against Maz, and the others to Luis Quiñones and Osvaldo Rodriguez. Leon subbed out Angel Mena and Jean Meneses for Ramiro Gonzalez and Fidel Ambriz. Tigres now needed to get the tying goal and had a great chance when a cross into the area went past everyone, and Gonzalez could have had a tap close range chance but he failed to connect well with it and it went wide. It was the last opportunity, and Leon would get the victory and the ticket to the final.

New coach Ariel Holan is getting to a Final in his first season in Liga MX in a great performance. Coach Miguel Herrera had said prior to the final that teams in Mexico looked at foreign coaches that “didn’t even play professional football”, a dig at Holan who was a professional field hockey player and started coaching in that sport. In the Semifinal, Leon had the better record but the less powerful squad, and yet were deserved winners. They should be favored in the Liga MX Final if they face Pumas, although the solid way that Atlas is playing will probably mean the Guadalajara team might be favored over Leon; and yet Leon is a very solid team that has played better then expected, especially since they had numerous key players injured who are just coming back into the fold like Luis Montes and Fernando Navarro. Coach Herrera meanwhile will take a lot of the blame for the loss and the defensive play by the team in the last minutes. Subbing out their best player in Gignac was a strange move, and especially not subbing in players like Florain Thauvin and instead going with young players like Raymundo Fulgencio in a very defensive move. If Leon would have scored, which is what happened, there really looked like there would be no answer from Tigres. That the very expensive team in Tigres had to sit back and wait is something fans will not be happy with. Leon meanwhile will try to get another title a year after their last one, and although there is the coincidence that they lost their regular season matchups against both Atlas and Pumas, they are still going to be a tough hurdle and maybe even favored to win it it all.