Liga MX playoffs: Puebla giving champion Tigres all they can handle

Underdog Camoteros can eliminate holders with a road win Sunday

Puebla captain Brayan Angulo (in back) epitomized the Camoteros' rugged approach in their 2-2 draw against Tigres on Wednesday.
Puebla captain Brayan Angulo (in back) epitomized the Camoteros' rugged approach in their 2-2 draw against Tigres on Wednesday. / Hector Vivas/GettyImages

The defending Liga MX champs learned quickly that their quarterfinal clash with Puebla would be no walk in the park.

The underdog Camoteros stood tall against a veteran Tigres squad that seemed out of sorts at times in the face of the aggressive hosts.

The holders will be relieved that their star striker André-Pierre Gignac will be back in the line-up for the return match after a training-ground injury kept him out of the first leg.

After Thursday’s 2-2 draw, Puebla must defeat the higher-seeded Tigres while the champs need only a draw to advance to the semifinals.

A look back at Game 1

Right out of the gate, Nahuel Guzmán was under pressure and the enigmatic Tigres goalie made a fantastic kick save to deny Camoteros sniper Guillermo Martínez in minute 6. 

The Nos. 3 and 6 seeds came out slugging at Estadio Cuauhtémoc on Thursday night, Tigres making Puebla chase the ball while probing for weak spots and “La Franja” pressing the attack vertically when in possession.

The Camoteros had greater success through the first half hour, not only taking advantage of ref Oscar Mejía’s leniency with several hard fouls, but also finishing their moves forward. Tigres only had one shot on goal during the opening 30 minutes, a sharp-angled blast that Jesús Rodríguez blocked in self defense.

A minute 38 header by Sebastián Córdova – MVP of Tigres’ run to the Liga MX title last season – was matched by a Memo Martínez header in minute 44, a nifty goal manufactured by Kevin Velasco who got behind Jesús Angulo before crossing to his striker who was all alone because Javier Aquino unwisely let him drift to the back post.

Martínez – Puebla’s goleador and No. 2 on the Liga MX scoring list with 8 goals – was a nuisance all night for the Tigers defense which was uncharacteristically lax in its man-marking.

In minute 47, “Memo” hit the side netting after a Gustavo Ferrareis cross found him alone at the back post. Two minutes later, “La Franja” was in the lead.

Puebla ripped apart the Tigres defense when captain Brayan Angulo sent a cross field pass to Velasco on the right flank as defender Sebastián Olmedo hustled to join the attack. Two “felinos” defenders moved to cover Martínez and Olmedo raced into the middle of the box unmarked meeting Velasco’s perfectly weighted centering pass and powering it past a helpless Guzmán. It was Olmedo’s first goal of the season.

The absence of Gignac was evident as his replacement Nico Ibáñez contributed very little on the night even as Tigres began to control the rhythm of the match in the second half. Luis Quiñones was denied in minute 65 and Aquino nearly scored in minute 68.

With just over a quarter-hour remaining, Tigres equalized thanks to a sparkling give-and-go between Raymundo Fulgencio and Rafa Carioca

Fulgencio, who had just subbed in 3 minutes earlier, collected a pass on the right flank and turned toward the box before passing it ahead to Carioca who barely flicked it into Fulgencio’s path and the 23-year-old blasted it first time inside the far post.

Puebla had one more opportunity to score but Guido Pizarro scrambled to get a foot on a close-range Martínez shot early in stoppage time.