Familiar foes, having already met in the group phase of this year’s Copa Libertadores de America, Mexican club Tigres UANL and Argentina’s River Plate will again go head-to-head in the final. A first in this competition for Tigres, for River this will be their fifth appearance in the title decider – 19 years on from their second and last triumph in the coveted Copa in 1996.
What is more, the fact that it is Los Felinos that have made it through to the final means Los Millonarios – the team with the worst group record to have qualified for the knockout stages – will play the second leg at home, as competition rules stipulate the trophy must be handed over on South American soil. In addition, the Argentinian club already have a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015, given that opponents Los Universitarios are a CONCACAF side taking part in the Copa by invitation only. FIFA.com previews the first leg of what should be a fascinating tie.
Final first leg
Wednesday 29 July, 20.00 (local time)
Tigres (MEX)-River Plate (ARG)
Road to the final
Tigres’ group-stage showing was highly impressive, picking up four wins from their six encounters and drawing the other two – both against River. And in their final Group 6 match, with top spot in the section already in the bag, they secured a dramatic 5-4 away win over Peru’s Juan Aurich which guaranteed Los Millonarios would follow them into the next phase.
In the Round of 16 they edged out Bolivia’s Universitario de Sucre, winning 2-1 away and drawing 1-1 at home, while come the quarter-finals Los Felinos got the better of Ecuador’s Emelec, turning around a 1-0 away reverse with a 2-0 home success. Next on the list of victims were Brazilian heavyweights Internacional, Tigres again losing away, this time 2-1, before going through on aggregate after a 3-1 win at home. And having brought in some big-name reinforcements, they dream of being the first Mexican club ever to lift the Copa Libertadores.
River Plate, for their part, started slowly, drawing four and winning just one of their Group 6 games to squeeze through to the Round of 16 with fewer points than any other qualified side. That unwanted record condemned them to playing the second legs of all their knockout ties away from home, with the exception of the final – due to the previously explained competition rule.
Even so, come the last sixteen they were able to end the hopes of age-old rivals Boca Juniors, winning 1-0 on aggregate, before in the quarter-finals they turned around a 1-0 home defeat by Brazil’s Cruzeiro via a 3-0 away success. The last four brought a tussle with Paraguay’s Guarani, River winning 2-0 home prior to a 1-1 draw in Asuncion, and the Argentinian superpowers go into this year’s final with morale buoyant and at the top of their game.
Tigres have spent 41 seasons in the Mexican top flight, a record that puts them right up there with the country’s leading clubs. Winners of three domestic championships and three Mexican cups, Los Felinos came close to dropping into the second tier in 2009, a scare that has triggered them bouncing back to become recurring challengers for domestic honours – as well as regular qualifiers for international competitions. Having set the Libertadores as one of their priority objectives for this year, they have made headline-making moves in the transfer market in the latter stages, such as the signing of France international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac.
River Plate are indisputably among Argentina’s most successful and well-supported teams, their tally of 35 domestic championships higher than any other team. A club with a long tradition of playing good football, the legendary names to have pulled on the famous shirt includes the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Angel Labruna, Nestor Sivori, Enzo Francescoli and Ariel Ortega.
Their rich pedigree did not prevent them dropping down into the second division four years ago, however, for the only time in over a century of existence. They have battled back since this shock to the system, though, winning promotion straight back to the top flight and claiming further trophy triumphs in the shape of another Argentinian title, the 2014 Copa Sudamericana and the 2015 Recopa Sudamericana. Winning of seven international trophies, victory in this year’s Libertadores would be their third Copa crown.
Players to watch
Egidio Arevalo Rios (Tigres)
The hard-working Uruguayan midfielder, whose main qualities include fighting spirit, tactical discipline and astute timing in the tackle, has proved himself a vital cog in the Tigres machine throughout this Copa. Known as Cacha, he has represented his country at two FIFA World Cups™, one FIFA Confederations Cup and two Copa Americas, with Tigres’ coach Ricardo Ferretti sure to rely heavily on his experience and leadership ability in the bid for Libertadores glory.
Jonatan Maidana (River Plate)
Another vastly experienced performer, centre-back Maidana is a key component of Los Millonarios’ defensive set-up. His confidence, solidity, aerial prowess and strength of character all combine to make him an automatic first-choice for River, and he has played a hugely influential role at the back in their run to the final – in addition to weighing in with a crucial goal in the quarter-final clash against Cruzeiro.
0 – The number of times Tigres have lost at home in this year’s Libertadores. Over their six home games thus far, they have won four and drawn two – one of those coming against River in the group phase and the other versus Universitario de Sucre in the Round of 16.
“River’s history is irrelevant here. This is about the here and now, and at this moment in time we’ve got a great chance. It’s going to be a very tough and intense final and we’re up against quality opponents, but we’ve got plenty going for us too – they’re not going to have it easy. We’re very hopeful of coming away as champions,” Jorge Torres Nilo, Tigres defender.
“Even though away goals don’t count, we’re not going to change our way of playing. That said, we still have to be compact from back to front. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to take the initiative, but we need to play with intelligence. The Copa is a genuine obsession for everyone here and we’re just one step away. The challenge facing us is to win the Libertadores and travel to Japan [for the Club World Cup] in the manner we deserve,” Marcelo Gallardo, River Plate coach.