This coming Sunday will see a brand new chapter written in one of North America’s greatest sports rivalries. When it comes to the Mexican Primera Division it gets no bigger than Club America versus Chivas (Sunday, 6pm est, Univision). Referred to as the Super Clasico, the Clasico of Clasicos, or just simply “El Clasico,” the game – and all its associated hype – dominates the sports conversation nationwide the week of the match. With each of the clubs representing one of the two biggest cities in Mexico – Guadalajara (Chivas) and Mexico City (America) – the match is a true national derby. On Sunday all football fans in Mexico will be tuning in, with supporters of other clubs picking a new side for the day of the match.
Built on a foundation of history, regionalism, national pride, and a long history of bad blood between the two opposing fan bases, the rivalry’s impact continues to loom large over the Mexican football landscape. As with all great sports rivalries, you can throw records out the window when the teams take the field. Each club’s performance so far this season may have fallen below fan expectations, but come Sunday none of that matters.
The history of the rivalry dates back to the founding of the Mexican Primera Division (Liga Mayor) in 1943. While each team has a longer individual history, it was the formation of this new national league (founded by ten football clubs from the three biggest regional leagues in Mexico) that allowed Guadalajara and America to face each other for the first time. Chivas won that inaugural meeting 1-0, and the two sides have played regularly ever since. The strength and intensity of the rivalry developed through the years as the two clubs grew to become the most dominant teams in Mexico. Chivas and America stand as the only teams from the league’s original founding members to have never been relegated, and both have won loads of trophies through the years (Chivas having won the most championships in Mexico with 11, closely followed by America who is tied with Toluca for second all-time with 10).
It was Chivas who had the greater early success and at the time the new league was founded were already growing into one of the most popular teams in Mexico. With a policy of fielding only Mexican-born players, Chivas drew on feelings of national pride to gain supporters throughout the country. This support only grew as the team took complete command of the league in the early years, winning seven championships between 1957 and 1965.
The tide finally began to turn following the purchase of Club America by the Azcarraga family in 1959. The Azcarrarga family, owners of the Televisa television empire, changed the fortunes of America by injecting increased funds into the club, bringing in foreign talent, marketing the team internationally, and opening a new stadium (the massive Estadio Azteca in 1966). America would win its first league championship in 1971, and by the 1980s the team had turned into the most dominant force in all of Mexican football. Historically referred to as “Los Canarios” (Canaries) because of their yellow jerseys, America fully re-branded themselves as the “Super Aguilas” (Super Eagles) during this decade as they soared over 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 America 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.
With both teams having tasted success at the highest level, games between the two became increasingly intense. During the 1980s the rivalry reached its peak, punctuated by a massive brawl between the teams in 1986 resulting in suspensions for 22 players. While this violence has somewhat dissipated as the rivalry has moved into the 21st century, there remains no love lost between the two sides. Club America goalkeeper Memo Ochoa summed up the feelings of many on both sides of the rivalry when stating that he would never exchange his jersey with a Chivas player after the game.
This season neither club looks like a legitimate championship contender, but both will be fighting for points to stay alive in the playoff hunt. America stands 2 points out of first place in the Group 2 standings, while Chivas clings to life in fourth place of Group 1. Chivas do finally bring some forward momentum into Sunday’s match, having won their first game in over a month last weekend (yes it was only a 1-0 win over Necaxa, but after weeks of stumbles Chivas will take any steps forward they can get). Chivas do hold the advantage of having dominated the Clasico of recent, beating America in 4 of their last 5 matchups, including last season’s 1-0 win at Estadio Jalisco. America, though, will be back at Estadio Azteca this year and will be looking to exact some revenge in front of their home fans. While getting 3 points is the goal for both teams, we all know that Sunday’s match is much bigger than that. When it comes to the Clasico you can go ahead and forget the team’s records and ignore the league table; all that matters is the result on that one particular day. In the grudge match between Chivas and America, a win over a hated rival is a trophy in and of itself.