Monday, February 18, 2013

Up it was not so crystal clear. America (Mexico City) and CD Guadalajara finished 1st and 2nd in Group 1 and qualified for the next round. UNAM (Mexico City) and Atletico Potosino qualified from Group 2. Cruz Azul (Mexico City) and San Luis – from Group 3, and from Group 4 – Universidad de Guadalajara and Atletico Espanol. More or less, familiar 'big' clubs – America, CD Guadalajara, Cruz Azul. Still clinging to the biggies, yet, declining Atletico Espanol. Atletico Potosino and San Luis probably just had a good year. As for U de G, or Club Deportivo Universidad de Guadalajara, or Leones Negros – they were young and strange. Founded in 1970, the 'Black Lions' climbed quickly to First Division and not only to make the numbers: they reached the championship final in 1975-76. Evidently, ambitious and well financed club, but... a club without supporters. Guadalajara is old football centre in Mexico, hence, the public made their choices long time ago – mainly divided between CD Guadalajara and Atlas. There was UAG too... the city is big, but no matter how big, a club founded in 1970 was doomed to be without fans.

Second stage – 8 teams divided in 2 round-robin groups, no points from first stage carried over. Brand new start, the winners of the groups going to the final. In case teams ended with equal points, goal average was decisive factor – not goal difference. Goal average was old concept, fading away after 1960, but still in use here and there. Its merit is dubious, but then which decisive system is convincing? Yet... sometimes goal average is entirely wrong. No problem in Group 1: UNAM finished first, a point ahead of Cruz Azul, also having the best goal-difference. But goals were not important here – they were in Group 2, where America and U de G ended with equal points, 8 each. America scored 14 goals in 6 matches and received 6. U de G received only 3, but scored measly 8. All things equal, America outscored the competition by far, and ended with +8 to U de G +5. Goal average said different, however: 2.67 U de G vs 2.33 America. Scoring less was more...
America – robbed from playing at the final? Depends on stand point.

Leones Negros reached the final for second consecutive year – may be this time champions? Or UNAM? Pumas vs Leones Negros. Intriguing not only because of carnivorous names – both clubs are University clubs, neither was champion ever before. No matter what, brand new champion was coming, emphasizing power shift in Mexican football. University-based clubs were becoming power-houses, successfully elbowing traditional big clubs. The rivalry between Mexico City and Guadalajara was preserved, but it was not a classic derby.

The two-legger was tied struggle: UNAM clinched a scoreless tie in Guadalajara. Back at home , they scored the single goal at the final. 1-0. U de G lost the final again. Pumas defeated Lions.
Probably it was not so gloomy in the Lion's den: remember their date of birth? Founded in 1970, and already playing twice at the championship final. Two silver medals in 7 years of existence – and clearly establishing themselves among the strongest Mexican clubs. With such strength may be they were to build a fan base too.

As for UNAM – it was their first title ever.
The club was not young, but never a big player in Mexican football until the 70s. During this decade they established themselves in the First League, grew stronger and stronger, until they won the championship.
Pumas looking menacing and winning. Standing from left: Candido (Brazil), Genaro Bermudez, Héctor Sanabria, Leonardo Cuéllar, Enrique Vázquez del Mercado, José Luis López, Velibor " Bora " Milutinovic – coach.

First row : Juan José Muñante (Peru), Spencer, Cabinho (Brazil), Jesús Iturralde, Arturo Vázquez Ayala.

Champions are always worth praising, but this squad is special for more reasons than for the obvious historic first title. Not for the exotic look of Leonardo Cuellar either – Cuellar was Mexican national team regular, but still not the most important member of the team. Two of the foreigners – the Peruvian star Munante and the lesser known Brazilian Candido were not the most important items either. Yet, the mentioned so far outline quite a strong team. But add the Brazilian centre-forward Evanivaldo Castro, or simply Cabinho. The prolific goalscorer is often considered the best ever footballer in Mexico. No doubt, part of the legend comes from 1976-77. And missing on this picture is another mega-star, much more famous than Cabinho – Hugo Sanchez. Sure, he was young and unknown internationally at that time, but already a national team player and deadly striker. Now, having Cabinho and Sanchez in front is something... lethal. There was no regular place for the Argentine Jorge Paolino. Pumas, even by European standards, were star-studded team:
Cabinho, Jesús Ramírez, Juan José Muñante, Hugo Sánchez, and Cándido -such a group would have made many an European club envious. Stars are stars, but making a winning team is another matter. Bora Milutinovic was a debutant coach – he was still playing for UNAM the previous season. Champion in his first coaching year! May be now becomes clear why he is the coach with most World Cup finals – he was good at the very beginning. Yes, the squad was not 'legendary' in 1977 – but looking back, here are legendary people. The best ever player in Mexico; the best ever Mexican player; Bora Milutinovic. Oh well, it was not only felines – there was also 'La Cobra' Munante. A team to stay on top. Simple game, football – all you need is great players and a great coach.