Sports

Monterrey, Tigres deliver thrilling game in rain-soaked Apertura final first-leg

Monterrey celeb vs Tigres first leg 171207
Monterrey players celebrate after Nicolas Sanchez opened the scoring for Monterrey against Tigres.

MONTERREY, Mexico — Tigres and Monterrey drew 1-1 on Thursday in Estadio Universitario in the first leg of the 2017 Apertura final in a rain-soaked game, with the second and defining leg coming Sunday in Monterrey's Estadio BBVA Bancomer.

Here are three takes on the game in which both teams finished with 10 players:

1. Monterrey with slight advantage for Sunday's final

Last time these two teams met in the playoffs — just over six months ago in the 2017 Clausura quarterfinals — the series was all but over after the first leg, with Tigres cruising to a 4-1 win.

Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed made no bones about wanting revenge for that loss ahead of the Liga MX final and Thursday's first leg offered evidence of how improved Rayados are this Apertura.

In front of a packed Estadio Universitario and in sweeping rain — which at times was of the frozen variety — Monterrey held firm and the result puts Rayados just about in the driving seat, given they have scored 23 goals and conceded just four in home games this season.

There is very little between these teams on the basis on Thursday's match and Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti — aiming to guide his team to their third Liga MX title in three years — will not have wanted to have given a set piece goal away, which is exactly how Monterrey opened the scoring.

A corner swung in from Dorlan Pabon in the ninth minute was glanced into the net by Nico Sanchez, with Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman making a sprawling and ultimately unsuccessful effort to stop the ball going in at his near post. With no Tigres player guarding the posts from corners, there's little doubt that Mohamed had worked on the routine in training in preparation for the match.

But after a nervous start from the home side, Tigres did up the tempo after the goal and deserved their 27th minute equalizer.

It was another defensive error that handed Tigres the leveler, with Monterrey striker Rogelio Funes Mori making a true forward's challenge to run in the back of Enner Valencia inside the penalty area. Funes Mori was lucky not to be sent off abd Valencia stepped up and scored the kind of Panenka penalty that will go down in the history of the rivalry, especially if Tigres lift the trophy on Sunday.

After the break, the conditions deteriorated and probably hindered Tigres more than Monterrey, with the increasingly waterlogged pitch working against the home side's patient passing game.

The sheer drive of each team to get a result through shone through as aesthetics went out of the window and the tackles came flying in — leading to a total of 11 yellow cards and late reds for Monterrey's Leonel Vangioni and Tigres' Hugo Ayala.

Tigres, however, had the better of the second 45 minutes in terms of both possession and chances, with Jesus Duenas forcing a fine save from Monterrey keeper Hugo Gonzalez — Rayados' only Mexico-born starter — from a free kick in the 72nd minute. French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac also hit the post with a shot from outside the penalty area four minutes later.

Tigres celeb vs Monterrey first leg 171207
Tigres players celebrate after Enner Valencia levelled the score against Monterrey from the penalty spot.

2. Californian Gonzalez lives up to hype

The eyes of casual Liga MX fans who supported the U.S. national team were on California native Jonathan Gonzalez in the first leg of the final and the 18-year-old didn't disappoint.

The central midfielder was slightly at fault for Tigres breaking and winning the first-half penalty, but aside from that this was a performance of some quality, displaying the same traits of tenacity, pressing and shrewdness in possession. That play validated some of the reports in the build-up to the game that big teams in Europe are looking at him.

This was by far the biggest game of Gonzalez's fledgling career. The build-up to the final has been intense, the weather made playing even more difficult and surely Gonzalez can't have escaped the fact that people are talking about him as a future international.

Despite being seven years younger than the next youngest Monterrey starter and nine years younger than Tigres' Javier Aquino, Gonzalez held his own and then some. The future looks bright.

3. Atmosphere shines through despite weather

There may have been an unusual cold front sweeping northern Mexico, but it didn't stop the Tigres fans showing up and making the historic night one to remember. With the eyes of other Mexican regions watching on with some jealousy, the first leg of this final lived up to the significant hype.

There were repeated calls from the authorities and clubs for fans both side of the Monterrey divide to not let the passion spill over into violence and, at least judging right after the game, the occasion can be seen as a positive.

.@TigresOficial bus arriving at Estadio Universitario for the Liga MX final #ligamxeng pic.twitter.com/Aqky714Vt1

— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) December 8, 2017

Tigres fans awaited as the team's bus arrived at Estadio Universitario, setting off fireworks and flares and waving flags.

The Clasico Regio is gaining the reputation for being the best rivalry match in Liga MX and the first final between the two clubs only enhanced it. The intensity of the passion and the way these clubs are both so intrinsically linked as neighbors, combined with the parity and quality on the pitch, sets it apart from other games in Mexico.

The return leg on Sunday will turn the emphasis over to Monterrey fans, who are unlikely to let the city down. This has all the elements of a classic final. Roll on Sunday.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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