Tigres became the first Liga MX and Concacaf team to make the final of the FIFA Club World Cup when they defeated Copa Libertadores Champions Palmeiras in the semifinal. Tigres was the better team overall and got the deserved victory in only the third time that a Concacaf team matched up against a CONMEBOL team in the semifinal. It was always a tough game for Tigres, but with a good plan by Coach Ricardo Ferretti Tigres was able to get the upper hand, defending well once they took the lead to book their ticket to the final. Tigres will face on Thursday the winner of the Al Ahly versus Bayern Munich semifinal to be played later today, although the European team is heavily favored to get the victory.
The first half started with Tigres going on the offensive against Palmeiras, something that may have surprised some as the South American side was favored for this game. Palmeiras had the first opportunity, but a counter attack that seemed dangerous was ruled correctly to be offside. Yet to the surprise of the few fans in attendance it was Tigres who got the first opportunity and it was a great one. Luis Rodriguez sent a cross that Carlos Gonzalez rose to head the ball and force Palmeiras’ keeper, Weverton to make a great save. Tigres continued to be the better team, with Luis Quiñones doing some good runs but handled well by Palmeiras. Palmeiras then slowly started to get more possession and control the match. Rony took a good right footed shot from outside the area that forced Tigres’ goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman to make a good save. Gabriel Menino got to the rebound, but skied his shot and he would have been called for offside had he scored. Palmeiras though continued to dominate and suddenly had control of the match as Tigres couldn’t get the ball back. After a couple of minutes of Brazilian dominance, Tigres suddenly started to get the ball back and safely hold on to the ball. With Tigres gaining control of the match, Quiñones made a great play to find Andre-Pierre Gignac, who got off a great shot that forced a spectacular play from Weverton. For all of Palmeiras dominance, they never had as close an opportunity as Tigres had with Gignac. Minutes later Gignac rose to head a good cross and once again forced Weverton to make another great save. Tigres continued to create more dangerous opportunities and had once again the better team on the field. Tigres also continued to dominate possession but the game remained scoreless. Although Palmeiras had been better for a good chunk of the time, overall Tigres was the better team in the first half.
The second half started with Tigres hoping to keep the momentum from the first half while Palmeiras tried to take control once again. The first minutes had Tigres continuing to take control of the game and Luis Rodriguez had the first shot in the half, although it went well wide. Then a great play from Rodriguez was going to found a wide open Carlos Gonzalez but he got brought down by Luan Garcia. A penalty kick was given and it held up to review by VAR. Andre-Pierre Gignac took the kick from the spot and put a strong right footed shot past Weverton, giving Tigres the 1-0 lead. Minutes later, Tigres almost got another great chance but Gonzalez seemed to be tripped going into the area by Gustavo Gomez but no penalty was given and replays showed it was the correct call. Palmeiras answered by subbing out Ze Rafael and Danilo for Patrick de Paula and Felipe Melo. In the free kick immediately after the play Palmeiras scored through Rony but it was a comically poor play that had two offsides. The linesman had no trouble disallowing what could have been the easiest play to judge offside in his career. Tigres answered with a good play by Quiñones that unfortunately Gignac failed to find Gonzalez after the great pass given to the French player by Quiñones.
Palmeiras then subbed out Gabriel Menino (who had a very poor game) for Willian. Quiñones made another great play when a great cross almost found Gonzalez in the area in what could have looked like a penalty done to him and in which it would probably had been a certain goal had Gonzalez been able to connect with the ball. Tigres continued to create dangerous opportunity with Gignac winning the ball in the area, but his pass was able to be cleared by Luan. Palmeiras did their last moves by subbing out Raphael Veiga and Marcos Rocha for Gustavo Scarpa and Mayke. Palmeiras was getting more of the ball as Tigres started to sit back, and yet they were still doing a better job at it than Palmeiras to attack and thus looked to be handling the game pretty well. Palmeiras had their best opportunity to score in the game when on a counter attack, Willian got past Carlos Salcedo and got a cross into the area that Luiz Adriano just missed, but Luis Rodriguez came inches from scoring an own goal off that cross. Rodriguez was surprised by Adriano not connecting the ball and his deflection would have beaten Guzman, but luckily for Tigres it went wide. Tigres finally made their first move by subbing out Jesus Dueñas for Fernando Meza in the 86th minute, showing that Tuca was pleased with his lineup and was only making moves to waste time. A minute later he subbed out Luis Quiñones for Raymundo Fulgencio. Palmeiras came close to having a great opportunity when Rony got into the area but couldn’t with a ball crossed into the area. Palmeiras had another chance when Scarpa got to a ball, but his shot was deflected by Tigres’ defense into the arms of Guzman. Tigres made their final move by subbing out Javier Aquino for Jordan Sierra. The last minutes had Palmeiras pressuring into the area including forcing Guzman to punch a ball in a play where Rony tried to sell a penalty that wasn’t given. Palmeiras has their best chance in the final minute when Fulgencio gave the ball to Matias Viña, who got off a shot from outside the area that was just deflected into a corner kick. On the corner kick, goalkeeper Weverton get a header but it went wide and Tigres held on to make history.
Tigres’ victory over Palmeiras is historic for Tigres and Mexican Football. After 16 editions of the tournament, finally a Liga MX/Concacaf team makes the final of the tournament. Although a lot of the reasons for this was because Mexican teams were grouped in the path of the UEFA team in the semifinals, they failed twice to make it when they faced a CONMEBOL team (Pachuca in 2008 and 2017) and with three times not even getting to the semifinal when placed in the CONMEBOL path (Pachuca in 2007 and 2010 and Monterrey in 2013). Tigres played well and were the deserved winners. Along with the three Libertadores finals appearance by Cruz Azul (2001), Chivas (2010) and Tigres (2015), this is easily the biggest achievement by a Liga MX club. They will have a tough task if they face Bayern Munich (which is the most likely outcome) but they already made history with the win and the huge step taken this Sunday in Qatar. Hopefully it’s the beginning of great steps for Mexican football in that Middle Eastern country.