For the first 22 minutes of the first leg, the 2011 Apertura Liguilla final was living up to the hype. Santos Laguna and UANL Tigres were playing a fantastic match, with Tigres scoring early on the road but Santos pressing hard for an equalizer. It was exciting football, and it was impossible to tell what would happen next. Then, Juan Pablo Rodriguez went and got himself sent off. No more goals would come after that, with Tigres winning the first leg 1-0 in Torreon.
Damian Alvarez's 7th minute goal was spectacular. After picking up a ball from Hector Raul Mancilla, he picked the defense apart with a spectacular dribbling move before shooting past Oswaldo Sanchez from a narrow angle. Oribe Peralta almost equalized with a 15th minute shot off the crossbar, then Lucas Lobos almost doubled the lead when he forced a save out of Sanchez in the 22nd. It was fantastic play, with everything one might want out of a final.
Then, in the 23rd minute, Rodriguez delivered a kick to the groin of Manuel Viniegra. He was sent off, and deservedly so. Tigres seemed very content with their lead and holding onto it from that point on, while Santos subbed off Darwin Quintero at halftime.
The Saints appeared to have more of the possession and the better of the chances in the second half, but they were hardly real chances. As always, Tigres knew how to sit on their lead and produce a shutout. They have not allowed a goal in any of their five Liguilla games and will now head to Monterrey with a 1-0 lead. Santos will have to overturn that deficit in front of what is arguably the best crowd in Mexican football, without their best ball winner, in a place where Tigres have not lost this season.
For more on the Liguilla final and Mexican football in general, check out SB Nation's Mexican futbol blog FMF State Of Mind.