UANL Tigres take on Emelec in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores quarterfinal on Tuesday, and it's a big occasion for Liga MX. This is the best opportunity a Mexican team has had in a very long time to win the tournament, and if Tigres pulled it off, they'd be the first Mexican side ever to become champions of South America.
How can a Mexican team become champions of South America? Because South America likes money. Liga MX teams were added to Copa Libertadores in 1998 to tap into some new markets, and it's worked out wonderfully. The tournament has significant viewership in Mexico and the United States because of their inclusion. Thanks to the Mexican sides, South American club teams are seriously getting paid from increased TV rights fees and sponsorship revenue.
It's not like including Mexico in Copa Lib is a no brainer, though. Travel from Mexico to South America and vice-versa for midweek games, between two domestic weekend matches, really stinks. Tigres are done with domestic play, so they don't have to deal with that problem anymore, so their elimination from the Liga MX playoffs is only going to sting if they can't get past Emelec.
As solid as Tigres' run has been so far, it doesn't have any kind of defining characteristic or big moment. But if the recent history of Liga MX teams in Copa Libertadores is anything to go off, some top-notch drama might be on the way shortly. Copa Lib is usually so incredibly stupid that its stupidity becomes part of its charm; it is soccer's answer to 'The Room'. From the hilarious to absolutely heartbreaking, here's the best of Mexico in South America's premier tournament.
Chivas vs. Internacional - The 2010 Copa Libertadores final
Chivas de Guadalajara, along with San Luis, qualified for the knockout stages of the 2009 Copa Libertadores. Their Round of 16 matches were subsequently canceled, with their opponents receiving automatic victories, thanks to a massive H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in Mexico. Both teams were granted direct passage to the knockout stage of the following tournament, meaning only six second-placed teams in the 2010 Copa Libertadores got to qualify for the Round of 16.
By this point, Chivas and San Luis were both pretty bad, and not the teams that had earned their places in Copa Libertadores through their league position. San Luis subsequently got rolled over by a superior team, but Chivas went on a shocking run to the final, defeating three of the continent's best teams in the process -- Velez Sarsfield, Libertad and Universidad de Chile.
After losing the first leg to Brazilian giants Internacional at home, Marco Fabian scored a bicycle kick in Brazil to level the final just before halftime. Sadly for Chivas, the combination of travel and not having a lot of good players took their toll in the second half, with Internacional scoring the next three goals.
Chivas captain Hector Reynoso didn't take the loss well. He proceeded to join Internacional's big celebratory circle and shove a dude in the face. This kicked off a hilarious fight in which a bunch of guys chased each other around the folks trying to set up a stage in the center of the pitch. Eventually, Chivas gave up and just let the winners get back to celebrating.
Junior Atletico vs. Jaguares de Chiapas - 2011 Copa Libertadores Round of 16
The second leg of this tie is, without a doubt, my favorite match of all time. It is the only high level competitive match in which I can remember a coach pulling his goalkeeper for being awful. It is certainly the only match of its kind that I've seen in which said pulled goalie tried to fight his manager before the boss's decision was vindicated with some excellent saves by the backup and an eventual victory.
Former Jaguares de Chiapas goalkeeper Jorge Villalpando is 5'8", on top of being an absolute lunatic. His lack of height and composure were both on display on the three awful goals he let in, leading to "Profe" José Guadalupe Cruz's dramatic decision to yank him. Cruz looked ready to throw some punches if he needed to as his starting goalkeeper attempted to beat the hell out of him, though Villalpando was thankfully held back by an army of assistant coaches.
Just seconds later, some fans ran onto the pitch and got a nice kick up the ass by Edgar Andrade, who went on to score the winning goal.
The old Jaguares de Chiapas don't exist anymore. They moved to Queretaro after that club went out of business, then took up the Queretaro FC name and Gallos Blancos nickname. The aforementioned San Luis moved to Chiapas to replace them, so now San Luis don't have a team anymore. Liga MX is amazing.
Tijuana vs. a Brazilian gauntlet - 2013 Copa Libertadores
This Tijuana team, coming off a Liga MX title, filled with talented internationals, with a great coach in Antonio Mohamed at the helm, was arguably Mexico's best hope to win the competition since Cruz Azul's run to the final in 2001. The way they went down was the ultimate gut-punch.
Xolos' run to this point only made it worse. They beat Corinthians in the group stage, defeated Palmeiras in Brazil after drawing at home to get through the first knockout round, then scored the opening goal of an away game in Brazil again against Atletico Mineiro in the quarterfinals.
Réver's goal for Atletico Mineiro just before halftime was a big setback, but not a game-ender. Tijuana were fantastic throughout the second half, but Victor kept coming up with big saves. It looked like Xolos were on their way to an unlucky, but ultimately completely understandable exit until Leonardo Silva conceded a penalty in stoppage time, giving Duiver Riascos a chance to step up to the spot and send his team into the semifinals.
Victor didn't just stop the penalty. He made the save of his life. The Galo keeper dove too far to his right, past Riascos' shot, but had the presence of mind and body control to swing his left leg, kicking it miles away from the box and entirely on purpose. Atletico Mineiro went on to win the tournament, barely scraping by their next two opponents on penalties -- with Victor making big saves on both occasions.
It's up to Tigres to continue the tradition of Mexican teams doing absolutely ridiculous things in Copa Libertadores. Club Leon and Santos Laguna mostly let us down last season and Tigres are capable of producing better. Now get out there and lose on a stoppage time penalty miss, or at least start punching each other in the face.