Mexico's Clásico de Clásicos

Oscar Rojas (R) of America is marked by Marco Fabian of Chivas

Rich boys versus poor boys, city slickers versus provincial upstarts, foreign imports versus national talent, and chequebook team-building versus a youth policy. A good number of the world’s great rivalries are spiced up by at least one of those ingredients, though not many can lay claim to all four.

Mexico’s Clásico de Clásicos between America and Guadalajara is one such derby. And the two biggest sides in the land are getting ready to renew their long-standing enmity this weekend in a match that will once again bring the entire country to a standstill for 90 minutes.

The originsAt the end of the 1950s Mexican football went through a transitional phase as Necaxa and Atlante, its two most popular clubs, fell into crisis. Filling the void were Guadalajara, who were attracting increasingly large numbers of admirers thanks to their policy of recruiting Mexican players only.

All that the country’s new darlings needed were a rival to do battle with, which is where the ambitious America, who had just been taken over by the media magnate Emilio Azcarraga, came in. The new owner of Las Águilas was keen to point out the differences in philosophy between the two clubs, preparing the fertile ground in which their mutual animosity would soon take root.

“With their Mexican players, Chivas are the good guys,” he would observe on a regular basis. “But we are going to buy the best foreigners and become the bad guys.”

Facts and figuresThere has been very little to choose between the two sides in their 206 meetings in friendlies and in no fewer than seven different competitions. Las Águilas have a slight edge with 74 wins to Chivas’s* *66, with the remaining 66 games ending in draws.

With their Mexican players, Chivas are the good guys. But we are going to buy the best foreigners and become the bad guys.

On closer inspection, however, those statistics yield some interesting variations. In league meetings Guadalajara hold sway, having registered 49 wins and 38 defeats, although when it comes to championship play-offs, America are the masters, having totalled 13 victories and only 4 losses.

Tales of derbies past
The rivalry began to take shape in 1959, when America embarked on a tour of Guadalajara. After seeing his side chalk up three 2-0 wins against teams from the city, Águilas coach Fernando Marcos joked that its telephone code had changed to “20 20 20”. The wisecrack did not go down well in Guadalajara, with Los Rojiblancos intent on revenge, which they duly achieved the following year when they beat America by the entirely appropriate scoreline of 2-0. The ill will between the two sides has merely grown since then.

That bad feeling has resulted in some controversial incidents on the pitch. Sent off in a stormy 1964 encounter, Chivas legend Guillermo “El Tigre” Sepulveda took off his shirt and threw it down on the ground. “That’s all you need to beat America,” he said as he marched off. Some four and a half decades on, the 75-year-old Sepulveda repeated the gesture at half-time during a 2009 Clausura game between the two sides. It did the trick, with Guadalajara running out 1-0 winners.

Talented midfielder Ramon Ramirez enjoyed similarly iconic status with El Rebaño Sagrado in the nineties. To the disgust of the fans, however, the club’s directors decided to sell him to America. Angry demonstrations were held, with the player himself declaring that he was against the transfer. In the end, Ramirez made the move to Mexico City but performed well below his usually high standards in a six-month stay. After briefly moving on to Tigres UANL, the Mexico international returned to his beloved Chivas, where he would remain for three more seasons.

The biggest Clásico de Clásicos meetings of recent times came in the semi-finals of the 2006 Apertura championship play-off, with Guadalajara prevailing 2-0 on aggregate en route to taking the title.

The rivalry today
This Saturday’s encounter brings together two sides in fine shape. Bolstered by the goals of star player Javier Hernandez, Chivas top the Mexican standings with 28 points, while America lie seventh on 18. Las Águilas need a win to be sure of staying in the play-off places, though recent form points to a Chivas triumph. In a rivalry as intense as this one, however, past results – recent or otherwise – count for little.

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