Manuel Veth –
After the third international cup final defeat in last night’s CONCACAF Champions League final, Tigres UANL are quickly developing into the Mexican equivalent of Benfica Lisbon’s Belá Guttmann curse. After coaching Benfica to two European trophies in 1961 and 1962 head coach Belá Guttmann left the club after a financial disagreement.
Upon leaving Guttmann allegedly cursed the club, declaring, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion”. Benfica have gone on to lose all eight of their subsequent European finals, including five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, and 1990), and three UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014).
Whether a disgruntled former employer has put a similar curse on San Nicolás de los Garza based Tigres has not been recorded. But what is on record is that Tigres, for the third year in a row, were once again defeated on the final hurdle of international cup glory last night.
2015 Copa Libertadores Failure
Their first final appearance was in the 2015 Copa Libertadores. Back then Mexican clubs still competed in the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. Reaching the final after they eliminated Brazilian side Internacional Tigres faced Buenos Aires-based River Plate.
The two teams already met each other in the group stage, and River Plate only advanced to the later stages of the tournament after Tigres’ second squad beat Juan Aurich 5-4 in the final group stage match. It would be a result that would later haunt Tigres.
Tigres were only the third Mexican team ever to reach the finals of the Copa Libertadores. No Mexican team had ever won the tournament, and Tigres were hoping to break the Mexican duck in the competition.
To increase their chances, Tigres started investing heavily. Fuelled by the Mexican multi-billion corporation CEMEX the club quickly put together a squad that included French national team player André-Pierre Gignac. Gignac, in particular, was brought in with Copa Libertadores glory in mind.
But over both legs, Gignac was kept off the scoresheet as Tigres drew River Plate 0-0, and then were defeated 3-0 at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. Tigres may have later wondered what would have been if they had lost the group stage match against Juan Aurich, and in effect eliminated River Plate in the group stage.
The following season Tigres qualified for the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League. Once again Tigres made a deep run in an international competition. In the group stage, Tigres quickly brushed aside Herediano and Isidro Metapán. Tigres then defeated Real Salt Lake 3-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals and then reached the finals after eliminating Querétaro 2-0 on aggregate.
2016 CONCACAF Champions League Final Failure
Once again Tigres UANL were, however, defeated in the final. Facing league rivals, Club América Tigres lost 0-2 at home at the Estadio Universitario and were then beaten 1-2 at the Estadio Azteca. Again Tigres failed to gain a significant advantage at home in the first leg, and with a mountain to climb in Mexico City were never with a shout to win the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Tigres would, however, avenge their defeat when they won the 2016-17 Apertura final against Club América. Since their triumph at the Apertura, however, Tigres have put all their focus on finally winning their first international trophy in 2017.
Once again Tigres managed a deep to the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Easily qualifying out of the group stage Tigres eliminated fellow Liga MX side Pumas in the quarterfinals 4-1 and then were dominant over two legs against Major League Soccer side Vancouver Whitecaps (4-1 on aggregate).
Speaking at the press conference at BC Place following the 2-1 victory over Vancouver Ricardo Ferretti showed how much reaching the final meant for the club. Eliminating the Whitecaps was deemed the last hurdle before the Tigres would shower themselves with glory in the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Winning this trophy appeared to be the club’s destiny. Tigres had happily predictable results during the Clausura stage of the 2016-17 Liga MX season. The results in the league have for the most part been disappointing. But with the club focusing on the Champions League title, the lack of form in the league was happily ignored.
Fans and officials happily shrugged off poor results. “Tigres are just focusing on the Concachampions” was what many told the Futbolgrad Network after the Vancouver game. The drop in league form, however, started to have an impact on the club’s Champions League performances.
Tigres have the most expensive side in the Western Hemisphere
Heralded as the most expensive side in the Western Hemisphere Tigres were, in fact, weak against Vancouver in both legs. In the first leg, Tigres struggled to outplay a Vancouver team that was clearly out of depth against a much more experienced side. In the second leg, Tigres were lucky that the Whitecaps could not find a second goal after Brek Shea had narrowed down the 2-0 lead from the first leg to one goal. In the end, it was individual brilliance and not a team effort, that took them past Vancouver.
Tigres, therefore, needed to pick up their form if they wanted to have any chance to beat Pachuca in the CONCACAFC Champions League final. Los Auriazules then beat Chivas (3-0), and Pumas (4-0) in the week leading up to the final.
With those two successes in mind, Tigres were major favourites to beat Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions League final. But once again the curse of having to play at home first struck Los Auriazules. Tigres dominated the first leg, and even missed a penalty, but in the end, Pachuca managed to wrestle a 1-1 draw from Tigres at the Estadio Universitario.
The result in the first match meant that Pachuca had the all-important away goal before the tie headed back to the Estadio Hidalgo. But before that Tigres had to play Monterrey in the Clasico Regio. The Clasico Regio is one of the most famous derbies in Mexico, and with Tigres still in the Liguilla race, Los Auriazules could not afford to rest any players. In the end, Tigres lost the Clasico 1-0, and with the defeat travelled to Pachuca having to win at the Estadio Hidalgo.
Perhaps it was the derby defeat on the weekend, or maybe Tigres are just cursed. But Los Auriazules once again struggled to overcome the final hurdle, and in the end, it was Pachuca, who stole the show by winning their fifth continental title, and their second CONCACAF Champions League crown.
It is, in fact, a result that may have a significant impact on Tigres going forward. Following the defeat to Pachuca Ferretti was adamant that Los Auriazules would continue to strive for their first international title. “The quest has been made to play in the Club World Cup, and we have not achieved it, but we are not going to stop. We have to look to fix certain things and, in the next one, achieve it.”
Tigres have already assured a berth in the reformed 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, and with a shorter route to the CONCACAF Champions League final could finally overcome their finals curse next year. Perhaps in Tigres’ case four times, and not three times, will be a charm…
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.