The talent, the gossip, the inside track
Celso de Campos Jr
Mexican football usually catches the fans’ eyes with a beautiful, exciting, offensive game. But historically it has led them to nothing but disappointment. With no major international crowns – except in the Concacaf competitions, where they play alone – their clubs, performing well but failing to deliver at crunch time, tend to live up to the national team motto: jugó como nunca, perdió como siempre (played like never before, lost as usual). This year, however, America is not honoring this tradition. Perhaps the most successful side in Mexico’s football history, the Eagles entered this Libertadores campaign with one of their worst squads ever. No-one thought they would go further than a burrito left alone in the sun. But, playing mostly miserable football, they are somehow still alive and kicking. On Thursday night they beat Santos at home 2-0, taking a huge advantage to Vila Belmiro for the second leg.How do I begin to explain that the team that reached rock bottom at home are a step away from the Libertadores semifinals? Sorry, I just can’t do that.The only thing for sure is that the turning point of their campaign was the clash against Flamengo in the Libertadores’ round of 16 earlier this month. They went into the first leg as the worst team in the Mexican Clausura: two wins, two draws and 11 (yes, 11) losses. No wonder the Azteca Stadium was empty for the game against the high-flying Brazilians, who killed the poor birds 4-2. After the fourth goal America’s Argentine gaffer, Ruben Romano, made with his hands the unequivocal “it’s over” sign. And in the changing rooms, to avoid further shame, he resigned from his job.But in the second leg, at the Maracanã Stadium, headless America needed a 3-0 win to qualify. In other words, a miracle. Which it was just what they got.
Miracle worker: Salvador Cabanas
Yes, it was the game of their lives. But, no, it wasn’t brilliant football, an eye-popping performance of epic heroes. America pragmatically scored the three goals they had to – not the usual Mexican way.The Eagles were then reborn. More than 105,000 proud fans painted the Azteca in yellow and blue to host Santos. Once again, they got the job done without flamboyancy.
Having said this, it’s fitting that America’s saviour is un-hyped Paraguayan striker Salvador Cabañas. The butt of all jokes in the Mexican press because of his corpulent figure, the pony-tailed matador proved he’s worth his weight in gold (all of it) by bagging a brace in the wins against Flamengo and Santos. With eight goals in the tournament he’s now the Libertadores top scorer, tied with Cruzeiro’s Marcelo Moreno who is already out of the race.
Not even his mum would bet on him.
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