Andre-Pierre Gignac
Andre-Pierre Gignac celebrates after scoring the first goal for Tigres during the semifinals first leg match against Leon as part of the Torneo Apertura 2016 Liga MX at Leon Stadium, Nov. 30, 2016, in Leon, Mexico. Leopoldo Smith/LatinContent/Getty Images

There will be no time for gift giving in Mexican soccer this Christmas as powerhouses Club América and Tigres go head-to-head over two games to decide Liga MX’s Apertura champion. América will host the first leg of the Liguilla final at the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on Thursday before traveling to Monterrey for the deciding leg on Christmas Day. Holiday cheer will be reserved for only one team.

The pressure is particularly strong on América to ensure it will be a merry Christmas. The most successful club in the history of Mexican soccer, América is celebrating its centennial season. And, in the minds of its legions of fans at least, the only way to truly do that is to end it by being crowned the top dog in Mexico.

Thus far it has been something of a mixed centennial year. The undoubted high point was beating Tigres to win the Concacaf Champions League in April. But a poor start to the 2016-17 Apertura, including a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of its fierce rival Chivas in the Super Clasico led to the dismissal of coach Ignacio Ambriz and the appointment of veteran Argentine Ricardo La Volpe, who previously took charge of the club 20 years ago.

The results since have vindicated that move. Since September, América’s only defeats have been after penalty shootouts and to Real Madrid. After getting past Chivas and Necaxa in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Liguilla, América flew to Japan to take part in the FIFA Club World Cup. And the team certainly didn’t disgrace itself by getting past Asian champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors before bowing out 2-0 to Real Madrid and losing on penalties to South American champion Atletico Nacional in the third-place match.

With those three games, culminating on Sunday, América won’t be short of sharpness for the final. The same cannot definitively be said for its opponent. Tigres has now had a 19-day break since it sealed a 3-1 aggregate win over Leon in the Liguilla semifinals.

It remains to be seen how much that will interrupt what was a rich vein of form in the playoffs. Tigres came through the second leg of its quarterfinal against Pumas with an emphatic 5-0 win before winning home and away against Leon.

Looking to repeat its 2015 Apertura title, Tigres will not be lacking in experience of the big occasion, either. Led by coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, Tigres has invested heavily in its playing staff in recent times, luring the likes of France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac and Mexico internationals Jurgen Damm and Javier Aquino.

Tigres also finished two points above América in the regular season standings, despite giving the impression it took its feet off the gas in the closing weeks when a place in the playoffs had been all-but confirmed. Perhaps the dominant force in Mexican soccer over the last 18 months, Tigres will enter the final as favorite.

However, América will comfort itself with the fact that when the two sides faced off in the final of the 2014 Apertura, it was the team from the capital that emerged 3-1 victors.

Prediction: The effect of Tigres’ long layoff is the unknown factor that could play a decisive role in this final. But if Ferretti’s side is able to pick up where it left off then it has the big-game quality to emerge with another title.

Winner: Tigres

Schedule, TV and Live Stream Details
First Leg:
Thursday, Dec. 22, 10 p.m. EST (Univision, Univision Deportes,
Second Leg: Sunday, Dec. 25, 7:30 p.m. EST (Univision, Univision Deportes,