Sunday, August 1, 2021

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Gignac stars as Tigres break CCL curse

  • Tigres beat LAFC in the CCL final
  • The Mexican side had previously lost in three finals
  • Andre-Pierre Gignac made his mark on the tournament

Tigres won the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time on Tuesday, defeating Los Angeles FC in the 2020 final. In doing so, Los Felinos ended a run of three losses in the final of the continental tournament – all within the last five years – and secured a berth at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™.

The exciting competition came to a crescendo this week, after being suspended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final were all played in a ‘bubble’ in Orlando, Florida (USA).

The road to Qatar

The Nueva Leon-based team kicked off their tournament with a surprise defeat away at Alianza (El Salvador) in the first leg of the Round of 16. However, they bounced back in the return leg to dramatically qualify on aggregate, and from that point on, they never looked back.

In the quarter-finals, they overcame MLS outfit New York City FC 5-0 on aggregate. In their single-leg semi-final, the Mexicans defeated Honduran side Olimpia 3-0, and in the final they showed great character to come from behind and clinch a 2-1 victory over LAFC in the last 20 minutes of the match, booking their spot at Qatar 2020.

Memorable moments

History-making Hondurans

Although they eventually lost 3-0 to Tigres at the semi-final stage, Olimpia’s success in this year’s competition cannot be understated. Pedro Troglio’s men made history by eliminating Montreal Impact in the quarter-finals and becoming the first Honduran team to participate in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. And as if that were not impressive enough, they did so without the support of their loyal fanbase, as the first and second legs were played in Canada and Orlando respectively.

Reputable runners-up

While they failed to end the 14-year streak of Liga MX teams winning the tournament, Los Angeles FC came within a whisker of continental glory. On their way to the final, they disposed of no fewer than three Mexican clubs (Leon, Cruz Azul and Club America) – a feat no other MLS team had ever achieved in the history of the competition. Led by the effervescent Carlos Vela, LAFC showed that their team has a highly promising future.

Like a fine wine

He may be 35 years old, but Andre-Pierre Gignac continues to demonstrate that age is all in the mind. The evergreen Frenchman topped the tournament scoring charts with six goals and picked up the Golden Ball award for his strong performances, while in the final, just when it seemed that the match was heading for extra time, he calmly slotted home the winning goal from just outside the box with six minutes remaining on the clock.

Exuberance of youth

Throughout the final, LAFC exhibited a hard-running style that blended great physical effort and tremendous tactical discipline. The team’s coach, Bob Bradley, has made the most of his team’s youthful energy, a characteristic that allows them to commit several players forward while still being able to get back and cover in time should they lose the ball. It was no surprise, therefore, when LA’s young Ecuadorian full-back, Diego Palacios, was handed the Best Young Player Award.

Did you know?

Goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman played a fundamental role in Tigres’ Champions League success. Not only did the experienced Argentinian keep three clean sheets in six matches, but in the last 16, when Los Felinos were on the verge of being eliminated on away goals by Alianza, he joined the attack deep into injury time, and proceeded to head a free-kick firmly into the back of the net to send his team into the quarter-finals.

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