Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman's mustache made him look like the silent film villain who tied the beautiful woman to the railroad tracks, and for parts of Tuesday's first leg that's the position Pachuca was put in. But Tuzos wriggled free and rode an early goal to a 1-1 draw that puts them in prime position to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy next week when the two-leg series heads to the Estadio Hidalgo.
There were frequent moments of pressure for the visiting side, none greater than Eduardo Vargas stepping up to take a penalty that Erick Gutierrez had conceded with a handball in the 66th minute. Goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco has started over veteran Oscar Perez for the majority of the team's CCL run and has earned his keep, including a critical stop in the second leg of the team's semifinal against FC Dallas. But earlier in the night, Blanco had spilled a cross from Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez that Ismael Sosa easily put in for an equalizer.
This time, however, Blanco held strong. He leapt to his right to keep Vargas' shot out and keep the score level.
That's how it would end, meaning if Tuzos extend their 30+ home undefeated streak with a win or a scoreless draw next week, it will head to Dubai for the Club World Cup. That looked in serious doubt after Sosa's equalizer. After the goal just after the half-hour mark, the Volcan was rocking. The Libres y Lokos and other Tigres fans were making themselves heard, and their team responded with several good looks. Andre-Pierre Gignac had goals teed up but failed to find the target.
It was impressive for Pachuca to keep a Tigres team that had put three past Chivas and four past Pumas last week to just one goal, with center backs Oscar Murillo and Omar Gonzalez working hard in front of Blanco, and wingers Jonathan Urretaviscaya and Hirving Lozano staying back to help ease the pressure on their own fullbacks when Tigres looked to attack through Javier Aquino or Sosa.
Like they had in the semifinal, an early away goal allowed Pachuca to sit back more than Diego Alonso teams normally are accustomed to. But unlike against FC Dallas when the home team surged back and Pachuca struggled to find any answer to the constant attacks, Urretaviscaya brought the mustachioed menace Guzman into action, while Lozano continued to get forward and put Juninho and Jesus Duenas into referee Mark Geiger's book.
Pachuca was wrapped up like a damsel in distress several times during the contest, but in the end it was its own hero. It avoided the oncoming danger, and now has the freedom to get one over on its former captor in the second leg.