A popular sports debate show ran a poll the night before Thursday's first leg of the Liga MX final, asking viewers which manager coaching in the two-legged series is better — Chivas' Matias Almeyda or Tigres' Tuca Ferretti?
The question is goofy. Ferretti has a decades-long career and has won multiple titles while Almeyda is only beginning his time on the bench. But such is Chivas' popularity that the 43-year-old still won the poll, and for 80 minutes they looked right.
Chivas controlled the match. Almeyda's decision to start Michael Perez next to Jose Juan Vazquez in the center of the midfield looked genius. They were the first team in 24 matches to score multiple goals against Tigres and were going to take a two-goal lead to Guadalajara.
Then Gignac happened.
Andre-Pierre Gignac scored twice in four minutes to make the score 2-2, a result that remained at the final whistle and sends the series tied into Sunday's second leg.
"I think we played a great game, especially in the first half. The game plan was bearing its fruits in the result, but we came up against 'a crack' who touched the ball twice and scored two goals," said Almeyda, using a Spanish term for an amazing player.
"It's down to his ability. The second goal is the kind a different kind of player scores. There were a few mistakes on that second goal, but his finishing was impeccable. His finishing was really impeccable."
Ferretti didn't simply rely on the Frenchman, though at this point he's been so monumental that might be tactics enough to win a match. He brought on Damian Alvarez and Jurgen Damm to get deep down the wings against a Chivas team that had given little ground despite Tigres pushing for much of the match. Alvarez's move and left-footed pass for the first goal was crucial for Tigres to find that bit of belief that the series wasn't over, that the dream of becoming bicampeon still was alive.
The second goal was all Gignac, with the forward running onto Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez's impressive long pass and keeping his body upright to get a touch on the ball and guide it into the net that Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota had vacated.
Everything had been going right for Chivas prior to Gignac's extraordinary outbreak.
The first goal was a gift, something Chivas accepted but didn't necessarily deserve. The atmosphere in El Volcan wasn't magnanimous, and Tigres rode that wave of home support to a strong start. The attacks were repelled with Cota standing tall in goal for the Guadalajara side and once again during this Liguilla, Chivas took advantage of a set piece. After Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman dove at and missed a corner kick, Chivas forward Alan Pulido took advantage of a friendly deflection and scored his first goal since early April.
The second goal had more merit. With the lead already in his pocket, Almeyda had all 11 men behind the ball with No. 9 Pulido putting in yeoman's work defending deep into the Chivas end. But this is a side that learned to be comfortable without the ball and when it did win back possession, Rodolfo Pizarro was again able to punish an error from Guzman and the lead become two.
Almeyda had to believe he had everything exactly as he wanted it. But Ferretti sat unmoved, like a man at a bus stop frustrated that once again his ride was late. When it ultimately came, he was pleased.
"In the first half, we were always pushing, all the game. Chivas played their game well, looking for spaces, closing off zones, defensively they played really well," the coach said after the match. "The two goals are situations that can happen to anyone. The errors were costly, we committed them, but the character of soccer, the desire, the commitment, I think the result we have now is more than fair. More than fair because my team did everything possible to be able to win. We tied, but I think that getting the tie leaves us in a very good state of mind."
Tigres continued pressuring, and Guzman was called upon to keep the gap at two with Chivas continuing to find gaps. Tigres found opportunities, too. Jesus Duenas' second-half effort was stopped by Cota. Stopping Gignac was a more difficult challenge.
What more can you write about Gignac? What more remains to say? Since arriving in Mexico the playoffs have been his domain. Thursday's double takes his total to 16 goals in 19 matches. Is there any way to stop this superstar from continuing to ascend to new heights? It will fall to Almeyda to figure out how to keep him from increasing his total in match 20. If the Argentine designs a game plan that can do that, those TV poll numbers will swing even more in his favor, this time justly.