America pounces on Chivas’ problems

Club América could hardly believe its luck as the halftime whistle blew at Estadio Omnilife: a series of events too fanciful to script before El Súper Clásico left C.D. Guadalajara in tatters.

Chivas’ malaise started when Jorge Enríquez and Héctor Reynoso departed through injury inside the first half-hour. Sergio Perez then procured a suspect second yellow card for a seemingly innocuous challenge on Christian Benítez after 36 minutes. Marco Fabián picked up an injury a few moments later that would eventually force him from the game early in the second half.

The emerging crisis within the Guadalajara ranks turned the match. Although balance of play in the first half probably shaded slightly toward the home side after Miguel Sabah went close on a couple of occasions, the circumstances favored the visitors heavily as the second half beckoned.

And this América side possessed all of the tools required to carve up its wounded opponent and secure retribution for a 3-1 defeat suffered at Estadio Azteca in October. Raúl Jiménez grabbed the headlines by scoring both goals, but the overall display – methodical and ruthless to its core against a group incapable of issuing a response – warranted most of the praise.

América – already suited to this situation with its 3-5-2 setup and its pair of wingbacks pushing up the flanks – asserted its dominance from the start of the second half and squelched any discussions of an improbable Chivas result by taking firm control of the proceedings.

Benítez provided a warning of the events to come when he forced Luis Michel to push his effort around the post three minutes after play resumed. Tidy work by Osvaldo Martínez on the right flank moments later prompted a deflected Benítez cross and won a corner kick that provided Jiménez with the opportunity to open the scoring.

The subsequent service exploited the deficiency created when Reynoso departed with an aggravated hamstring in the opening half. Jesús Molina played the corner short to Martínez to force Chivas to adjust. Jiménez separated from marker Víctor Perales – inserted into the proceedings as Reynoso’s replacement – and used the yard of space to deposit a classy header into the far corner of the net past the hopeless Michel.

Fabián’s subsequent departure moments later with a right ankle complaint underscored the magnitude of the challenge ahead for Chivas. The home side competed well and strung together some decent spells in possession given its tattered state, but América looked the more likely side to grab the next goal as it exploited the extra space afforded and squandered a handful of chances.

Second half substitute Rubens Sambueza eventually engineered the decisive second by exposing another of the Chivas substitutes thrust into a difficult situation. The Argentine winger persisted through Raul Morales’ challenge and served an inviting ball toward the top of the goal area. Jiménez beat Perales to the ball once again to power his header off Michel’s hand and into the net for his second with a quarter of an hour still to play.

Chivas striker Rafael Márquez Lugo forced Moisés Muñoz into a fine save before the final whistle to highlight his side’s commitment on the evening. Those efforts may have yielded some reward on another night, but Sergio Pérez’s red card – a controversial second booking issued for no good reason at all – and the trio of injuries to influential players left Chivas with little recourse to halt the inevitable defeat. Benjamin Galindo will undoubtedly point to those crippling developments as he attempts to explain away this setback and tries to focus his charges on their Liguilla push in the coming weeks.

Perhaps in other years, América might have found a way to fritter away the bounty provided by Chivas’ misfortune. Previous incarnations of this side lacked the cohesiveness, the mentality and the quality of this particular group. Jiménez’s sharpness in front of goal and the rampant professionalism throughout the ranks ensured the second half unfolded according to plan and showed the development of this squad under Miguel Herrera.

In this bitter and intense rivalry, the afflictions of one side constitute a significant opening for the other to emerge with the upper hand. América seized upon Chivas’ problems and sent them crashing to a painful home defeat. Even with the fortune involved in claiming this particular triumph, the final outcome – and the corresponding emotions created on the other side – still tastes just as sweetly.