Tigres dominate but need late heroics to beat León

Florian Thauvin (left) celebrates with André-Pierre Gignac after equalizing against León in minute 90 of a Liga MX semifinal match vs León. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Florian Thauvin (left) celebrates with André-Pierre Gignac after equalizing against León in minute 90 of a Liga MX semifinal match vs León. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Tigres beat Leon, 1st leg
León goalie Rodolfo Cota was under constant pressure, and made eight saves in all while trying to preserve a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Esmeraldas, the final two Tigres shots on the night went into the net. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Subs Florian Thauvin and Carlos González scored late to give the Tigres a thrilling 2-1 win over visiting León in the first leg of their Liga MX semifinals match-up.

The fourth-seeded Tigres thoroughly dictated large portions of the game at a packed Estadio Universitario, but fell behind against the run of play when Esmeraldas sub José “Avión” Ramírez led a secondary break down the right flank in minute 57. Ramírez stopped, then filtered a square pass to Angel Mena who poked a headman pass to sub Jean Meneses racing down the right channel into the box. The diminutive Chilean blasted a sharp-angled shot between Nahuel Guzmán and his near post as the Argentine goalie appeared to anticipate a centering pass to give León a 1-0 lead completely against the run of play.

The Tigres completely dominated the first half, firing 16 shots (5 on target) while enjoying nearly two-thirds of possession time. “Los felinos” were inside León’s shirts on defense, aggressively pressing all over the pitch, and demonstrating ambition with the ball at their feet.  Lax officiating by Marco Antonio Ortiz allowed the home team to take liberties, and the physical defense knocked the third-seeded Esmeraldas completely off rhythm.

León coach Ariel Holan made two changes to start the second half, sending on “Avión” Ramírez and Meneses, but the Tigres continued on the front foot. One wondered how long they could keep up the intensity and when Meneses rippled the net 12 minutes after the restart, the air went out of the stadium. Meneses whistled one by Guzmán’s left post less than 10 minutes later and that seemed to awaken the home team.

The shots kept flying – the Tigres would end up taking 30 in all – and the action seemed to move exclusively into the León end of the field. The Tigres started winning corner kicks and the pressure intensified. In a flash, the Esmeraldas almost stunned the hosts. Off a corner kick in minute 79 “Avión” led another breakout then led Víctor Dávila into the box on the left side. Dávila whipped a low shot that clanged off the far post.

That was the extent of the Esmeraldas’ resistance. The final minutes produced a flurry of action in and around the León area. Corner kick followed corner kick (the Tigres had 12, nine in the second half) and the crowd roared its approval, anticipating the equalizer.

In minute 90, left back Javier Aquino thumped a cross that soared toward the end line until a hustling Jesús Dueñas prevented a León free kick, popping the ball back into the center of the box. González outfought the burly Stevin Barreiro to nod the ball down to Thauvin who flicked the ball with a scissors kick just over the head of defender Osvi Rodríguez and inside the near post. “El Volcán” erupted. The score was tied 1-1.

Five minutes later, bedlam broke loose. Off a throw-in following a corner kick, León was slow getting upfield and sub Leo Fernández soared a long cross past the far post where André-Pierre Gignac rose above Barreiro (victimized again!) and headed the ball into the goal mouth where González swept a left-footed volley through a crowd into the back of the net.

A glum León side must now regroup, knowing that as a higher seed it can advance to its 15th Liga MX Final with a one-goal win at home. The second-leg match is set for Saturday night at the Camp Nou.

Barça making progress in pursuit of Ferran Torres. dark. Next

No. 2 seed Atlas visits 11th-seeded UNAM in the other Liga MX semifinal. That first-leg match takes place at Mexico City’s Estadio CU on Thursday night.