There is no love lost between Cruz Azul and Club America. The allegiances of most of Mexico City’s football fans are divided between these two sworn enemies, who never fail to serve up intensely memorable encounters whenever they meet.
Since they first squared off back in the 1970s, Los Cementeros and Las Águilas have been involved in some epic battles. Featuring a cast list comprising the likes of Carlos Reynoso, Ignacio Flores, Enrique Borja, Carlos Hermosillo and Antonio Carlos Santos, the rivalry has produced some lengthy periods of domination for one side or the other and yielded more than a few amusing anecdotes.
Under the aegis of ambitious owner Emilio Azcarraga, who took over the club in 1959, America invested heavily in talented foreigners in a bid to land the league title, which had eluded them for so long. Though a maiden championship finally came their way in 1965/66, they were denied further success in the years that followed largely because of Cruz Azul’s rise to prominence.
After moving from the small town of Jasso in central Mexico to the nation’s capital, Los Celestes reeled off seven titles between 1968 and 1980. Little wonder, then, that the two trophy-hungry neighbours should develop an instant dislike of each other.
Facts and figures
Despite Cruz Azul’s domestic dominance in the 70’s, it is America who have the better head-to-head record in the so-called Clásico Joven (Young Derby). Las Águilas have won 52 of the 146 meetings between the sides in all competitions, losing 43 and drawing 51. There is little to choose between the sides in league encounters, however, with America just edging it by 29 wins to 26.
That favourable record is largely down to America’s recent dominance in the fixture, with Los Azulcremas having gone unbeaten in 14 meetings heading into this Saturday’s game. Understandably, Cruz Azul’s desire to end that miserable run has become something of an obsession.
Takes of derbies past
The rivalry took on a new dimension in a memorable tussle at the end of the 1971/72 season. Cruz Azul had just moved to the Estadio Azteca, which America had enjoyed to themselves up until that point. It was for that reason that the championship play-off final was reduced from the customary two legs to a single game. And Los Cementeros showed they felt right at home at the fabled Azteca by inflicting a shock 4-1 defeat on the defending champions.
The man responsible for the fabulous run of success Cruz Azul enjoyed during the rest of the 70s was coach Raul Cardenas, who grew accustomed to beating America on a regular basis. Tired of coming off second best, Las Águilas persuaded Cardenas to switch sides by making him an offer he could not refuse.
As fate would have it, his first game in the America hotseat came against his old charges, who took the lead with only a few minutes on the clock. Temporarily forgetting he had jumped ship, Cardenas leapt off the bench to celebrate the goal, realising his faux pas a few seconds later. Fortunately for him, he was able to restore his reputation by steering his new side to the title in 1975-1976.
America followed up that success by dominating throughout the 80s, a golden decade that coincided with a trophy drought for Cruz Azul. The stakes were even higher than usual, then, when the two sides locked horns for the title in 1989, which was the last time they met in a championship decider.
The two-legged play-off, with both games being held at the Estadio Azteca, proved to be one of the finest in the history of the Mexican league. 3-2 winners in a thrilling first game, America eked out a 2-2 draw in the second for a 5-4 aggregate triumph that will long be remembered.
The rivalry today
The fixture has become a curse for Cruz Azul over the last seven years. In 14 subsequent meetings after their last win over America on 4 May 2003, Los Cementeros have lost nine and drawn five. And their immediate prospects of ending that winless streak on Saturday do not look altogether promising. Las Águilas have made the better start to the season, collecting six points to Cruz Azul’s four and lying four places above them in the overall standings. Like any of the world’s greatest derbies, however, El Clásico Joven is always tough game to call.