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Champions League

Pachuca leaning on home advantage, Lozano factor in CCL final

10:35 AM EDT 4/26/17
Hirving Lozano Pachuca Chris Seitz FC Dallas
Despite five matches without a victory, Tuzos are staying calm ahead of Wednesday's second leg against Tigres because of two major factors.

The two most recent Liga MX champions may not make the upcoming playoffs. Tigres, the reigning champion, and Pachuca, which won the 2016 Clausura, are struggling in the league. Despite having talented teams that look similar to the groups that won the title, they haven't been able to find consistent success this tournament.

None of that matters Wednesday night.

With the aggregate score level at 1-1, both teams now have their full attention on the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. One of these teams will become the continental champion, representing the region at the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in December.

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For all the frustration of the league — and each side has had plenty of it, including Tigres' defeat to crosstown rival Monterrey on Saturday and Pachuca struggling to find the back of the net — the opportunity to lift hardware could put a smile on the face of supporters after a frustrating start to 2017.

Despite what would seem like a pressure-packed situation, Pachuca coach Diego Alonso is keeping his cool.

"I'm already satisfied," he told reporters Tuesday morning. "Beyond whether or not we win or lose, being the manager at Pachuca has me satisfied."

He also can be calm in knowing his team is hosting Wednesday's second leg, a right earned by dominating a (relatively harmless) group and earning a strong seed. That means the deciding match will be played in a building where Tuzos haven't tasted defeat in more than a year, a 32-match streak extending back to a February 2016 Copa MX loss.

And of course there's Hirving Lozano, the star winger who is set for European glory sooner rather than later. He's dominated the international competition thus far, leading the tournament with eight goals, and while chatter in Pachuca is that making the Club World Cup would perhaps delay his upcoming exit, the 21-year-old would love nothing more than to nab an international title before leaving the club that gave him his start. 

"For us, it's the most important game of the year," Alonso said. "We know what it means to get here, and we're hoping to give everything out there. We're going to look to control the conditions to win the title."

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It's tempting to think that Pachuca, the small-town team that knows it's a selling club, needs this game more than Tigres and their big-money signings. But this is a tournament Tigres have never won in either the Champion Cup or CCL era, and a Club World Cup trip could cement the team's position as one of the top clubs in the Americas. That would salve the potential burn of missing the playoffs or falling early, as they did two tournaments ago.

While the fervent crowd might be imploring Tuzos to get a victory, controlling the game won't be that easy for Pachuca. Tigres got a boost earlier this week with the news central midfielder Guido Pizarro is fit for the match.

That will help Tigres' passing game, as the visitors also look to control possession, moving the ball to Eduardo Vargas under Andre-Pierre Gignac or getting to the wings with Jurgen Damm and Javier Aquino.

"It's difficult to find weaknesses in Tigres. They've got a lot of skill, both their Mexican players and their foreign ones," Tuzos goalkeeper Oscar Perez told Claro. "Apart from that I think we can hurt them with the great dynamic play Pachuca has, and if we're able to do that, we'll cause them a lot of issues."

Despite Tigres' strong squad, Pachuca has confidence it can lift the CCL title for the second time since the format switch and fifth time overall. It will all come down to how much of an influence the crowd and "El Chucky" can have on the contest.

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