By Kyle McCarthy
Club Tijuana managed to keep its unblemished home record in the Copa Libertadores intact with a 0-0 draw against Palmeiras on Tuesday night, but the Xolos squandered its invitation to take control of this round of 16 tie.
The home side kept its nerve for the most part and threatened occasionally after an indifferent start to the match. It did not, however, possess the sharpness required to make the best use of its advantage at Estadio Caliente.
The lack of investment in this side prior to this Libertadores campaign and the suspect form over the past few weeks told once again in the final third. Fidel Martinez lashed wide from a promising position at the top of the penalty area after 25 minutes to signal Tijuana’s improvement after a tentative opening period. Fernando Arce subsequently forced Bruno to tip his free kick over the bar, while Alfredo Moreno and Duvier Riascos both wasted good opportunities to open the scoring before the interval.
The second half dropped off a bit as both sides essentially accepted the inevitable 0-0 draw on offer as the match progressed. Tijuana lacked the quality to polish off its attacking forays or slice open the relatively compact Brazilian defense. Palmeiras threatened once or twice on the counter - Kleber dragged wide of the far post five minutes after the break - without truly attempting to wrest control of this affair.
Neither side ultimately mustered enough on the night to disrupt the established order - Palmeiras does not score away from home and Tijuana does not concede at home in this competition - or obtain much of an edge heading into the second leg in Sao Paulo on May 14.
The impending trip will present a difficult assignment for the Xolos, but their first leg work still places them in reasonable position to advance. The home shutout allows Antonio Mohamed’s side to lean on its stout defensive shape in the second leg and wait for the counter to perhaps snatch the goal required to book a place in the quarterfinals.
The prospect of entering the return match on level terms isn’t the same as taking a tangible advantage to Brazil, but it does at least offer some hope that this underwhelming draw will not ultimately lead to heartache in two weeks’ time.