The top two seeds in the 2011 Apertura Liguilla tournament bowed out early, but they were never the two best teams. Chivas Guadalajara and Cruz Azul were favorites only because of a sample size too small to account for unbalanced schedules, injuries and international call-ups. UANL Tigres and Santos Laguna are the two best sides in Mexican football, and there are no better teams to contest the final of the Liguilla. The first leg takes place Thursday night in Torreon, with the second leg taking place Sunday in Monterrey.
It's a classic final that puts the best offense up against the best defense. Santos scored at will this season in the Mexican Primera and had no problem scoring in either one of their playoff series against Jaguares Chiapas and Monarcas Morelia. Tigres appear to have a brick wall in front of their goal, easily recording four shutouts in their four Liguilla matches thus far.
Those traits do not define either team, however. Santos are talented at the back and Tigres have plenty going forward, but both teams have been hurt by injuries. The only injury doubt heading into the final is to Santos playmaker Daniel Ludueña; all Santos defenders and Tigres attackers are fit.
The two teams met on October 29 during the regular season and put together one of the best played matches of the tournament, as Tigres won 2-1 at home. It was a match where Tigres youngsters Jesus Dueñas and Alberto Acosta proved that they deserved first team places, but the viewers were left to wonder if Santos could have offered more going forward with Oribe Peralta in the team. At the time, the Mexican international was away at the Pan-American Games. Despite his absences due to his participation in that competition, he scored 12 goals in the Apertura.
This final is most definitely too close to call, with both teams possessing talent, depth, youth and experience in all areas of the pitch. Santos will need to get a leg-up on their opponents on Thursday night, as there's nowhere on the continent tougher to play than Estadio Universitario.
Santos Laguna vs. UANL Tigres
Game Date/Time: Thursday, December 8, 9:30 pm ET
Venue: Estadio Corona, Torreon, Mexico
For more on the Liguilla final and Mexican football in general, check out SB Nation's Mexican futbol blog FMF State Of Mind.