by Tom Marshall
Talk of reverting back to a regular yearlong season like in Europe is emanating from certain Mexican club directors. The crux of the matter is whether interest in the league can be maintained year round and if clubs’ substantial incomes from television rights would be reduced.
The debate lingers about the justice of a team finishing fourth or fifth in the general league and going on to win the championship but when push comes to shove, the race to get into the postseason playoffs in the Mexican Primera Division brings a certain buzz.
With only two games left, candidates are being whittled down and every point is vital to get into what Mexican commentators call the “big party.”
There’s no doubt on paper which game in the Mexican Primera Division stands out this weekend: Guadalajara Chivas v Cruz Azul.
Although Chivas are the most decorated team in Mexican soccer, it is “born great” Cruz Azul that are the dominant force this season and have scored 32 goals in 15 games while amassing 35 points. In stark contrast, Chivas have only scored 13 goals in their 15 games so far in the Apertura 2010, pointing to a clear flaw in their striking department following the departure of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to Manchester United.
If Chivas fail to get the three points, remote dreams of qualification for the playoffs are thrown out the window. The players, coaches and owner Jorge Vergara will face a long winter contemplating how they are to get themselves out of their current rut. However, they may be aided Saturday by suggestions that Cruz Azul, already qualified for the playoffs, may field a weakened team to give crucial players a rest.
Fans at the new Estadio Omnilife are likely to lose out and attendance is likely to be way below the norm for a fixture between two of Mexico’s big clubs.
Apart from Cruz Azul’s prolific attack (Argentines Emanuel Villa and Chaco Gimenez alongside Mexican youngster Javier “Chuletita” Orozco in particular), look out for shaven-headed Chivas midfielder Jorge “Chaton” Enrique. Word is that the tall 19-year-old is destined for great things.
The Mexican Primera Division is split into three groups. The top two teams in each group go through to the liguilla (playoffs) while the two other teams are made up of the next best-placed teams in the general table.
Who needs what this weekend?
Estudiantes UAG v Toluca (8:10 p.m.)
Estudiantes sit bottom of the general table and have nothing to play for while Toluca are in the thick of the action. A Toluca win could book their ticket (depending on other results) while a tie or defeat leaves them needing a result next weekend against Atlante.
Jaguares de Chiapas v Atlas (5 p.m.)
Four points from the remaining two games and Jaguares progress. Atlas have had a campaign to forget and are looking over their shoulder at possible relegation.
San Luis Potosi v Santos Laguna (5 p.m.)
Santos are already through to the playoffs while SLP need just a point to guarantee their place. Most likely result: 0-0.
Chivas v Cruz Azul (7 p.m.)
The team from Guadalajara need a minor miracle. Three points would be a start while they pray other results go their way. Cruz Azul are sitting pretty having already qualified.
Pachuca v Queretaro (7 p.m.)
Both teams need to win both their remaining games to have a chance. This game is like an early playoff. The loser is effectively eliminated.
Tigres UANL v Morelia (7 p.m.)
One point should be enough to put one of the Tigres’ feet into the liguilla. Morelia have a mathematical chance of qualification but it would be a minor miracle.
Atlante v America (9 p.m.)
America can book their place with a victory while Atlante have little but pride to play for.
Pumas v Necaxa (midday)
Pumas need a victory to retain hope of qualifying while Necaxa, based in Aguascalientes, have no hope at all.
Puebla v Monterrey (midday)
A real dead rubber of a game. Puebla can’t make the playoffs and Monterrey have already made it.
All times are Mexico City based.
Betting tips: Toluca are the reigning champions in Mexico but have failed to recapture their form in the Apertura 2010. Don’t let that put you off them though. Toluca are known for doing what it takes to get into the playoffs where they tend to convert themselves into shrewd knockout competition experts. Players and fans alike will want to give coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre a good send off before he takes charge of the national team in January.