Rafa Marquez's Atlas homecoming spoilt by rampant Club America
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- America easily overcame Atlas 3-0 in the Liga MX Clausura 2016 on Saturday, in a game that was notable for the return of Rafa Marquez to the Estadio Jalisco with Atlas and the uncertainties beforehand about the future of Club America coach 'Nacho' Ambriz.
Here are three quick takes from the match:
1. Rafa's bitter return
6,069 days since he last played for Atlas in their home Estadio Jalisco, Rafa Marquez returned to lead the team out against America on Saturday.
A lot happened in Marquez's career since, from winning a couple of Champions Leagues and four La Liga titles with Barcelona to becoming the first player in history to captain his country at four separate World Cups.
For Atlas, you could be forgiven for thinking everything had remained the same since El Kaiser de Michoacan set sail for Monaco back in 1999. The decaying World Cup 1970 and 1986 stadium may have been given a lick of paint every few years, but it remains in dire need of a complete refurbishment; the fans still show up to back a team that doesn't tend to win much and Atlas still have one title to show in over 50 years of first division play.
Marquez's return, therefore, was a massive deal. Photos of him were sold inside the Estadio Jalisco, a huge cheer went up when was introduced in front of the 51,031-strong crowd -- although a large minority were America fans -- and there was a genuine buzz about the place.
But after a decent start to the match in which Marquez displayed his supreme passing skills and vision, as well as the dearth of pace when put in any one-on-one position with an America striker, he was brought off at halftime with an unspecified injury.
Atlas were already 1-0 down after a Alvaro Gonzalez own goal, but the game was quickly finished off after the break, with Oribe Peralta netting in the 57th minute and Rubens Sambueza one minute later to kill off the game.
"You are my passion, you are my whole life," sung the Atlas fans about the club, even at 3-0 down.
It was an anticlimactic and somehow fitting way for Marquez to return to a club he clearly loves, but which needs more than a nostalgic romance with its greatest player to wake it from its long and deep slumber.
2. Ambriz pressure lifted, for now
A dire Club World Cup and dull 0-0 draw last weekend against Puebla piled the pressure on Las Aguilas coach "Nacho" Ambriz. He needed a performance and a result against Atlas with rumors swirling about the likes of Julen Lopetegui being lined up for the America job. He got both the performance and the result.
America wasn't the swashbuckling, entertainment-machine that is sometimes unfairly expected. Instead, Ambriz's team was balanced from the start, biding its time and stinging Atlas at key moments.
Atlas had started the brighter side, with Arturo Gonzalez going close with a header in the 11th minute and Gonzalo Bergessio doing the same in the 26th. Aside from those chances, Atlas didn't trouble America keeper Moises Munoz.
America's opener involved more than a slice of good luck. Rubens Sambueza crossed low from the right wing in four minutes from halftime more in hope than anything and he got the break when Atlas' Gonzalez turned the ball into the goal with no America player anywhere near him.
From there, Las Aguilas grew in confidence and waited while Atlas pushed forward. It didn't take long for Atlas to become exposed. Peralta took advantage in a counter-attack in the 57th minute and Sambueza finished the match as a competitive affair.
The only downside for America was the sending off of Michael Arroyo for lifting his hand towards Atlas defender Walter Kannemann in the 67th. It was a plain stupid offense with his side already 3-0 up and coasting. Sambueza was also reaching boiling point towards the end of the game.
Once again, there will once again be questions asked about Ambriz's poor disciplinary record since taking over the team ahead of last season's Apetura 2015, although he can breathe a sigh of relief that this time around it didn't cost Las Aguilas.
3. Sambueza still America's main threat
When Sambueza was taken off in the 83rd minute, it was to a standing ovation from the large swathes of America fans revelling in the result.
The Argentine may not be to everyone's liking with his exaggerated leaps to the floor, rolling around when he gets touched and his hyper-competitive spirit. Sambueza is a love or hate type of figure, the Diego Costa of the Liga MX and America fans understandably absolutely adore him.
Sambueza may now be 32, but his influence from a marauding right-wing position shows no sign of diminishing. He gave Atlas left-back Julio Nava a torrid evening, pulling him out of position and combining well with America's right-back Ventura Alvarado.
Even with the club boasting the attacking talent of Oribe Peralta, Dario Benedetto, Darwin Quintero, William Da Silva and others, Sambueza remains the standard bearer for this America side.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.