By Eben Lehman
This coming Sunday will see the newest chapter written in one of North America’s most historic sports rivalries. In Mexico it gets no bigger than Chivas and América. With each team representing one of the two largest cities in the country, Chivas (Guadalajara) versus Club América (Mexico City) is a true national derby. Referred to as El Super Clasico (or simply El Clasico), the game transfixes an entire nation, with even supporters of the other Mexican league clubs picking a side for the day of the match. As the two most successful clubs in Mexican history (21 championships combined), the stakes are usually high when the teams meet, with at least one of the two often at the top of the league table. The rivalry is also unique in that it represents historic feelings of both regionalism and national pride, as well as a long history of bad blood between the two sides.
When Chivas and América face each other, the action is always intense. (Photo: Newscom)
While both teams have longer individual histories, the rivalry itself dates back to 1943 when ten Mexican football clubs from the three main regional leagues joined together to found the Mexican Primera Division (Liga Mayor). This new national league allowed Guadalajara and América to face each other for the first time, with Chivas winning the inaugural meeting 1-0. The sides have met regularly since, while also growing into the two most dominant teams in Mexico. Chivas and América are the only teams from the league’s original founding members to have never been relegated, and the sides rank first and second in number of championships won all-time (with 11 for Chivas, and 10 for América).
Chivas had more early success, dominating much of the early regional competition in Guadalajara prior to the formation of the Primera Division. Wearing their ubiquitous red and white striped jerseys, Chivas were already growing into one of the most popular teams in the country at the time the league was founded. In addition to this early success, much of the club’s support was also fueled by national pride, coming from the team’s policy of fielding only Mexican-born players (a policy maintained to this day). By the late-1950s, Chivas had gained complete command of the Primera, winning seven championships between 1957 and 1965. While this era of dominance would not last, it allowed the team to claim supremacy over the rest of the league and to position themselves as Mexico’s most beloved team.
If there was a single event during Guadalajara’s early reign over the league which precipitated the massive rivalry to come, it was the purchase of Club América by the Azcarraga family in 1959. The Azcarrarga family, owners of the Televisa television empire, set the future course for Club América by injecting massive amounts of funds into the club, bringing in foreign talent, marketing the team internationally, and opening a new stadium (the massive Estadio Azteca in 1966). While results on the pitch were not immediate, the club did finally win a championship in 1971, and by the 1980s América were the dominant force in Mexican football. The Aguilas became the Super Aguilas (Super Eagles) during this decade, sporting their easily identifiable yellow jerseys and steamrolling through the rest of the league. This new success also brought resentment, with opposing fans criticizing the team’s high payroll and foreign players. Undeterred, Club América would go on to win five championships between 1984 and 1989, the first of those coming through a hard-fought victory over Chivas in the finals.
It was by this time that the rivalry had reached its peak. Both sides had built large fan bases and large national followings. With both teams also having tasted success at the highest level, games between the two became increasingly intense. Several massive brawls marred Clasico games during this era, with especially fierce matches occurring when the two sides happened to meet in the playoffs. Playoff series in 1983, 1984, and 1991 (all victories by América) were overshadowed by violent action on the pitch. While this violence somewhat dissipated as the rivalry moved into the 21st century, feelings between the two teams (and their fan bases) have become no less intense. Club América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa summed up the feelings of many on both sides of the rivalry when recently stating that he would never exchange his jersey with a Chivas player after the game. For his part, Chivas owner Jorge Vergara refers to Guadalajara as the “most Mexican city,” because it has produced the three most Mexican things- “tequila, mariachi, and Chivas.” Bulletin board material is one thing never lacking in the build-up to El Clasico.
Now having met over 150 times in league play, the teams have remarkably similar head to head records, with 51 wins for América and 55 wins for Guadalajara. One of the more recent match-ups of note occurred during the Clausura 2005 season (the season in which America went on to win their 10th title). Playing in Estadio Azteca, the two teams battled to a thrilling 3-3 draw in one of the best league games of the past decade. Current players such as Guillermo Ochoa (América), Pavel Pardo (América), Omar Bravo (Chivas), and Adolfo Bautista (Chivas) all figured prominently in that 2005 match, so we can expect similar excitement when the two sides meet this weekend.
While neither side has won a championship since 2006, both still regularly contend at the top of the league table, and both invariably dominate the national consciousness regardless of their position in the standings. The game will always be a true national rivalry, incorporating elements of regionalism, economics, and national pride, as well as a long history of classic Mexican football.
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