América Defeats Chivas in the Clásico Nacional

Las Águilas soared in Guadalajara with two goals from Olympic gold medalist Raúl Jiménez
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, April 04, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Most of the footballing world is familiar with the Spanish Clásico between powerhouse clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid. Other great derbies in the world's game include the matches between Internazionale and AC Milan in Italy, or Liverpool against Manchester United in England.

But Mexico's most important club game of the year is contested by Club América and Chivas de Guadalajara. The Mexico City club came into Sunday night's match just 5 points but 7 places higher than its biggest rivals as it walked out in a fully-packed Estadio Omnilife in Jalisco.

Just how big is this game?

A public opinion poll from Feb. 2012 showed that América was the favorite team of 23.4% of Mexico with 21.1% supporting Chivas.

Beyond the people tuning in to root for either team, there is also a considerable chunk of the population that watches the Clásico to cheer against one of the teams. Reportedly 43.5% of respondents of the poll cited América as their most hated team while 18.5% called Chivas their most hated; fans of other rival teams like UNAM Pumas and Cruz Azul in the case of América, and Atlas with regard to Chivas, account for these numbers.

Ahead of the recent US match against the Mexican national team, American forward Herculez Gomez told reporters, "This is their life. There is no Hollywood here. There's no NFL. There is no MLB, no NBA, NASCAR, NHL or any of that. It's futbol (soccer). They breathe and die this. This is what they do."

That sentiment also applies to this club match between the 2 most supported and most hated teams in the country. The excitement and fervor for this game exceeds that of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in American baseball; it is simply unavoidable.

The rivalry is also incredibly close through history. Of the 160 matches in which these two teams have met during league play or the playoffs since 1943, Club América has won on 53 occasions, Chivas de Guadalajara claimed victory on 57 occasions and 50 games have ended in a draw.

With that context in mind, let's look at the match. Three themes captured the spotlight while all of Mexico was glued to the Súper Clásico: the injury bug afflicting Chivas, the continued incompetence of referee José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto and the emergence of Raúl Jiménez as América's savior.

Chivas' injury woes

Perhaps Chivas de Guadalajara should be looking for new physical trainers after Sunday night's match, as 3 of the Goats starting lineup left the game through injury.

Jorge “Chaton” Enríquez, the Rojiblancos young resurgent central midfielder who played in every game for Mexico during its Gold Medal run, was forced off the field in the 13th minute with a nasty knee injury. Just 10 minutes later, starting central defender and team captain Héctor Reynoso came off due to a muscle strain.

As if the first half wasn't bad enough for Chivas, losing 2 key players to injury and losing a player to a red card, the second half was even worse. The game-changer for Chivas' attack, national team player Marco Fabián, suffered an ankle injury in the early stages of the second period. Fabián's absence, stinging because he just returned from a 3-game injury lay-off, meant that Chivas manager Benjamín Galindo had to use his all his substitutions on hurt players.

A coach who sees one of his players sent off, especially in the first half, would want to use his substitutions wisely to not exhaust his team. When it rains it pours apparently for Galindo however, as he saw 3 of his best players leave the game to injury and watched as a consistent fullback who hasn't missed a game this season receive his marching orders in the 36th minute.

Peñaloza tried to steal the show

I wrote a blog post about José Alredo Peñaloza Soto sending off Robbie Keane in a CONCACAF Champions League debacle last season. At that time, Peñaloza was averaging just about 1 red card and 4 yellow cards per Liga MX game he officiated. Including the Clásico, Peñaloza has been in charge of 7 matches this Clausura. In those matches he has issued 36 yellow cards and 7 red cards, or an average of 5.1 cautions and 1 dismissal per game.

There have been 108 matches so far in the Liga MX Clausura 2013. In the 101 matches not officiated by Peñaloza, the other referees have issued a combined 489 yellows cards and 42 red cards. Those numbers come out to 4.8 yellow cards and 0.42 red cards per game. Peñaloza's average for cautions is right about normal for the 20 referees in Liga MX but his red card rate is more than double the average. This suggests that Peñaloza is either trigger happy when it comes to sending players off or loses control of matches often (or both). Sunday night's Clásico Nacional provided evidence for both critiques of the outclassed official.

In the 27th minute when Chivas midfielder Jesus Sanchez came in hard and late on América full back Paul Aguilar, the match became secondary as many as 19 players crowded around each other shoving opponents and restraining teammates. Peñaloza looked lost and helpless as he stood back watching the melee of players around him.

Chivas fullback Sergio Pérez earned a yellow card in just the second minute of the game. That would prove costly as Peñaloza decided to show Pérez his second yellow in the 36th minute. Replays showed that he was battling arm-to-arm with América's Christian “Chucho” Benítez, but most referees would have simply whistled for the free kick if they saw any infraction at all.

Unfortunately for the quality of the match, José Alfredo Peñaloza is not like most referees and wanted to steal the show while all of Mexico was watching. The red card to Pérez completely changed the complexion of the game in which Chivas looked dangerous early on. Peñaloza may not be the worst referee in Mexico, but he certainly isn’t the best. A match of this magnitude deserved a better official than Peñaloza.

Raúl Jiménez is the real deal

In a few previous columns I've hinted at the potential of Club América's young forward. The Olympic gold medalist has the size and humility to develop into a tremendous player for both club and country. While he usually sets up his strike partner Chucho Benítez to score, Jiménez took the game (or what was left of it after injuries and poor refereeing) by the scruff of the neck against Chivas.

In the 52nd minute, Juan Carlos Medina played a short corner to Osvaldo Martínez, who immediately curled a cross into the box. Jiménez lost his marker inside the area and rose to meet the ball near the penalty spot. His powerful header redirected the ball to the far post well out of goalkeeper Luis Michel's reach.

Second half substitute Rubens Sambueza continued his impressive form with América on Sunday night. Less than 10 minutes after coming on, Sambueza soared down the left side of the field, cut into the middle and played an inviting lofted ball into the box. Jiménez surged through the lobbed cross and powered the ball towards goal. In fact, Jiménez's header was so strong that Michel managed to get a hand to the ball but couldn't prevent it from bouncing off the post and in.

What better way to endear himself to the América faithful than scoring a double against Chivas at the Estadio Omnilife?

The Clausura 2013 installment of Mexico's Súper Clásico displayed the good, the bad and the ugly. Peñaloza's awful match management threatened the integrity of the proceedings and unfortunate injuries to key Chivas players tainted the competitive flow of the game, but Raúl Jiménez's headed brace was worthy of winning any match. The loss underlined the struggles Chivas has faced this season and put manager Benjamín Galindo on the hot seat.

With the victory América moved up to third place in the standings and has earned (though under rather bizarre circumstances) bragging rights over its biggest rival until Apertura 2013 in the fall.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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