France striker Gignac's Mexico gamble pays off

Monterrey (Mexico) (AFP) - French international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac shocked many in the football world when he snubbed some major European teams to sign for a Mexican club six months ago, but his gamble is paying off.

His Tigres of Monterrey are in a domestic final, he's among the top scorers and fans love the former Marseille star, waving French flags at games -- while one couple named their baby after him.

With 13 goals, including two decisive ones in the Liga MX's Apertura-2015 knockout phase, the 30-year-old has led Tigres to the final against the mighty Pumas of Mexico City.

The teams will play the first leg at Monterrey's Universitario stadium on Thursday and the return at the Pumas' lair in the Mexican capital on Sunday.

Out of the French national squad for a year, Gignac was recalled last month, though his return was marred by the Paris attacks during the France-Germany friendly.

Now he has a shot at lifting the Mexican league trophy after promising Tigres fans "great things" when he arrived in June.

"Just one step to glory, which we are all seeking," Gignac tweeted after Sunday's semi-final victory over Toluca.

The Frenchman almost grabbed a first trophy in August when Tigres reached the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League, which the Mexicans lost to Argentina's River Plate.

Winning against Pumas could vindicate him after many scratched their heads when he left Marseille, where he scored 21 goals last season, and shrugged off interest from other European clubs.

- 'Peace for Paris' -

In Monterrey, an industrial hub in the north of the country, tickets for the final were selling five times over the official price on the black market outside the stadium.

At the official team stores, cups, T-shirts and notebooks with Gignac's image were sold out. His team jersey is also a popular item.

"It's impressive. We have nothing left," said Reina, a 23-year-old store saleswoman.

Carla, a 25-year-old employee of another shop, was printing Gignac's name on a jersey.

"Since he arrived at the club, eight out of 10 jerseys that are sold have Gignac's name," she said.

Some fans have taken it a step further. In July, a couple named their newborn Andre Gignac Quistian Palomo, and the player later took pictures with the family.

The Tigres have won the national championship three times since the team was founded in 1960.

"A fourth title would be fantastic. With Gignac, we believe," said Ulices, 38, wearing the yellow Tigres jersey with his 13-year-old son.

During games, fans have waved the blue-white-red French flag in honor of their Gallic star.

After the November 13 attacks in the French capital, some held up the "Peace for Paris" logo while Edith Piaf's song "La Vie en Rose" was played in the stadium.

The French striker has his own song. To the tune of the Beatles' "Hey Jude," fans sing "Gi-gnac."

But the Tigres face a tough opponent in the final.

Pumas finished first in the regular season while Monterrey were fifth. And history is behind the Pumas, who have won seven titles.