Club America inflicts more pain on Chivas in epic Clasico Nacional
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Club America hung on to record a 2-1 victory over Chivas on Sunday in Mexico's Clasico Nacional.
The Liga MX's biggest game between its two most successful and popular teams was filled with emotion; both teams finished with 10 players and Chivas came close to leveling the score near the end.
Here are three points from the match:
1. America holds on by skin of their teeth
Can a team be close to the bottom of the relegation table, win just once in 10 league games in 2016, lose to its biggest rivals and still be given credit?
It feels as though Chivas' desperate attempt to rescue the game against America, having been 2-0 down, was deserving of respect. It certainly made for one of the most memorable Clasico Nacional games in recent times.
After a tepid and tactical first half in which Chivas' hard pressing made America uncomfortable in possession, Mexico's most important game came to life after the break.
If Chivas -- who only field Mexican players -- had been the better unit in the first 45, you knew America's talented individuals could strike at any time. And when a loose ball found its way to Oribe Peralta, who laid it off to Darwin Quintero four minutes after half-time, the Colombian smashed the ball into the net and all Chivas' good work was undone.
Peralta scored on the hour mark. Some classy work from America captain Rubens Sambueza down the left -- although Raul Lopez's defending must be questioned -- handed the Mexico international a header he would score in his sleep to make it 2-0.
Carlos Cisneros saw red one minute later and the game should've been put to bed. In the stands, the ugly specter of fans throwing beer cups at the America players in protest will sadly provide one of the lasting images of this clasico and could also bring repercussions from Liga MX authorities.
But instead of sailing towards victory, America's woeful disciplinary record struck and Paolo Goltz also picked up a red card. In a game between fierce rivals in which cool heads were required, Argentine Goltz almost cost his team the three points.
After that sending off, Chivas were ruthless, and it is no exaggeration to suggest they could've won, especially after Carlos Pena pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 in the 73rd minute. Out-of-form Chivas striker Omar Bravo went close with a header and then Carlos Salcido saw his chance saved on the line by America defender Miguel Samudio. Even goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota was sent forward as the seconds ticked down.
Chivas will complain about the refereeing; America will complain about plastic cups being thrown onto the field. Both will have reasonable cause, but clasicos are there to be won and Las Aguilas got the job done. Their fans won't care about the rest.
2. Questions remain for both coaches
Both coaches came into the game under pressure.
Ignacio Ambriz's team almost threw away a 2-0 lead against a side playing with 10 players, and his decision to take off striker Darwin Quintero for defender Erik Pimentel in the 72nd minute seemed to both invite pressure onto Las Aguilas and remove an outlet for counters.
The win did little to enhance the view that Ambriz is the right person to manage America, considering his previous failures in big matches. Chivas were the better side overall, despite not having as good a team as America and with Guadalajara struggling with relegation and going through one of the most difficult periods of its history.
But for Chivas coach Matias Almeyda, this was another occasion in which he had to make excuses because his team had not won. Two victories from the past 16 Liga MX matches is abysmal for an institution that boasts of its huge fan base and historic importance.
The way Chivas played and took the game to America was impressive, even though the final result wasn't.
3. Almeyda laments controversial decisions
The Estadio Chivas erupted when Isaac Brizuela smashed in a shot past Hugo Gonzalez in the 16th minute of the match. The Chivas players charged over to the winger, Almeyda celebrated wildly on the touchline and the substitutes even jumped onto the field.
It seemed Almeyda's plan to disrupt Chivas had worked. Las Aguilas had not been allowed to breathe; the air squeezed from their vertical game by Chivas' constant and intense pressing. But while the celebrations were going on, America players surrounded the assistant referee, who raised his flag. It seemed to take an age for the decision to disallow the goal to set in, and boos rang around the Estadio Chivas as play resumed with a free kick.
The assistant official had given offside, deciding Omar Bravo had flicked in on the ball to Brizuela, who was standing in an offside position. Replays were inconclusive. It simply wasn't clear if Bravo or an America defender had played it to Brizuela.
The decision certainly wasn't the little bit of luck that Chivas needed. Almeyda was upset after the game, not just about that decision, but about the refereeing in general.
"If we want to be one of the best leagues in the world, as Mexico deserves, we have to improve [the officiating]," the Argentine said after the game.
On the positive side, with the goals, controversy and emotion, it wasn't a Clasico Nacional we are likely to forget any time soon.
Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.