On Thursday and Sunday two of Mexico’s best supported teams, Pumas UNAM and Guadalajara Chivas, go head to head in an intriguing contest between two youth-based sides with a rivalry that has often bubbled to the surface in the past.
Pumas go into the game as favorites having finished second in the general table and overcoming champions Monterrey in the last round despite losing the away leg 3-1.
Chivas just about scraped into the playoffs in eighth position. However, after beating the super-leader, Tigres, in the quarter-finals confidence should be high for the club with by far the youngest squad in the league. Chivas certainly have nothing to lose.
Both teams rely heavily on players from their ‘cantera’ (literally ‘quarry’) or youth system.
Almost all Chivas’ players rose through the ranks of the club while Pumas field plenty of homegrown talent themselves. Perhaps Pumas have the advantage of experienced players like Juan Francisco Palencia, Martin Bravo and others that could keep calm heads if things start to get heated. Certainly Chivas looked shaky in the first 15 minutes against Tigres when an experienced, controlling midfielder to calm things looked like the order of the day.
Chivas players Jonny Magallon and the much talked about youngster Antonio Gallardo are set to miss out due to injury but may be back for Sunday’s game.
Chivas boss Jose Luis Real is urging his team to get three goals in the home leg as they did twice in the knockout rounds of the Copa Libertadores last year and did against Tigres last week.
"There is no doubt that the signs are there and it makes us think we have what it takes to become champions," said Real in a pre-game press conference.
It might well be wishful thinking. Pumas have looked omnipotent all season and tossed aside Monterrey, who many believe are by far the best team in Mexico, with a fair amount of ease despite needing to win by two clear goals at home.
The games are likely to be tight and a tactical battle from the coaches could ensue. Both teams play a pressing game with tight marking while defending and like to get the ball to the wings for fast counter-attacks when they have the ball.
Pumas haven’t won away at Chivas in many years. The two teams drew 1-1 in the Ciudad Universitaria earlier in the season.
Today the rivalry is between which has the better youth system. Chivas Sporting Director Rafael Ortega this week challenged Pumas to play strikers from their youth team and leave the likes of Martin Bravo, Dante Lopez, Juan Carlos Cacho and Juan Francisco Palencia, none of which came through the Pumas youth system, on the bench.
"One test is that we are purely Mexicans," said Ortega in a press conference when asked about the different youth systems. "If they are so sure about themselves then they should play with lots of Mexicans. If they have this (amazing) youth system, why do they need foreigners?"
The rivalry between the two teams first came to the fore in 2003 when Chivas beat Pumas 2-0 and Chivas owner Jorge Vergara published an advert reading "A nice little cat appeared before us" in the newspapers the next day. In Mexico, Pumas and Tigres are often referred to as ‘gatitos’ (little cats or pussy cats) by opposing teams.
The next season Pumas beat Chivas 3-0 and Pumas’ Brazilian player Ailton Da Silva paraded a T-shirt reading "Gatitos ni madres." The slang loosely means in English: "Pussy cats? What pussy cats?"
Then in 2004 Pumas beat Chivas in the final on penalties and Da Silva had another shirt ready for the occasion, this one reading: "Gatitos campeon a la Ver…Ga…Ra."
One of Mexico’s biggest rock bands, and hardcore Pumas fans, Molotov added to the rivalry with their song "Me Vale Vergara." Verga, in Mexican Spanish, is a informal way of saying male genitalia, hence the play on words from both Da Silva and Molotov.
"Me vale Vergara el Guadalajara," goes the chorus of the Molotov song (which can be heard on YouTube), which very roughly translates as "Guadalajara (Chivas) ain’t worth sh*t."
Apart from that episode the teams have reasonable respect for each other. Pumas are the football branch of the traditionally left wing UNAM (university) while Chivas are known as the "people’s club."
The two share a fierce rivalry with Club America.
Thursday, May 12: Chivas v. Pumas, 7 pm local time, 8 pm Eastern
Sunday, May 15: Pumas v. Chivas, 12 pm local time, 1 pm Eastern