Headlines love Pumas-America, but look for Liga MX’s champions in the Liguilla’s other semifinal

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As the Liga MX semifinals draw closer, the capital-centric Mexican sports press has focused on the meeting between Pumas and Club América.

That’s understandable. The clásico between capital rivals evokes memories of clashes gone by, of epic meetings in the `80s and `90s, not least of which is the 1991 final. That was the year when Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti smashed a stunning free-kick goal in the return leg to give Pumas the championship before ascending to the club’s managerial job.

Since then, Ferretti has managed a number of teams, including a brief stint as the Mexico interim coach this year, and while the team he gave a title as a player fights its rival, he’ll be leading his current club, Tigres, against Toluca in the semifinal that’s more likely to produce the Apertura’s title-winner

Ferretti’s men entered the playoffs on an absolute tear, finding their form after their manager was able to dedicate his total attention to the team. and once they were shorn of their CONCACAF Champions League responsibilities. A larger factor, likely, was the fact that some of the team’s most crucial players, including French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac and Mexican wingers Jurgen Damm and Javier Aquino, were among those who arrived in a summer spending spree.

Gignac followed up a superb regular season with a moment of magic in each leg of Tigres’ quarterfinal triumph against Chiapas, with a ridiculous overhead goal helping the club to a 2-1 first leg victory before a rocket from more than 20 yards gave Tigres a 1-0 victory in Chiapas. No team had at the Estadio Víctor Manuel Reyna since May.

Though Gignac, Damm, Aquino, Brazilian forward Rafael Sóbis and long-time Tigres man Damian Álvarez are more than formidable on attack, it’s at the back where Ferretti’s teams have traditionally been strongest. This incarnation doesn’t break that rule.

Tigres allowed the fewest goals of any team during the regular season, anchored by veteran Brazilian center back Juninho, who returned from injury to slot right back into the middle of the team’s defense. Next to him is Hugo Ayala, who has been in and out of the Mexican national team, but has done well to shut down attackers domestically. Israel Jiménez holds down the right side while Jorge Torres Nilo mans the left, though he’s been out with injury and will not be available in the semifinal (Damm is also an injury worry).

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