Derby Day: It's What We Live For

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Derby Day: It's What We Live For
(Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Derby day in Guadalajara, Mexico. The stage is set for Guadalajara and América to take the pitch for the 204th time.
 
One point below América and a playoff spot, Guadalajara will be led by Francisco Ramírez, a novice manager who held assistant manager duties for former Mexican National Team bosses Ricardo La Volpe and Sven-Goran Eriksson.
 
He has been on the job for three days.
 
Meanwhile, after firing Argentinian Ramón Díaz four weeks into the season, América is managed by Jesús Ramírez, the only Mexican manager to win a World Cup in any category.
 
Ramírez will be missing star striker Salvador Cabañas and his tournament-leading 11 goals. Both Ramírezes will take part in their first derby as managers.
 
An estimated 67,000 people file into the Estadio Jalisco—police look on closely as both teams' fans begin to taunt and sing at each other.
 
Derby day in Santiago, Chile. Universidad de Chile will host Colo-Colo at the Estadio Nacional.
 
Colo-Colo, "The Eternal Champions", are in the midst of a six game winless streak and mired in the lower part of the table with 11 points in the same number of games.
The hunt for their 29th championship, it seems, will have to wait until next season.
 
Universidad, on the other hand, are only below upstart Union Española in the league table and are comfortably cruising towards the Apertura playoffs.
 
With Colo-Colo out of the way, The U could crown itself for the 13th time, the first since 2004.
 
More fans than the confirmed capacity of 42,000 that the stadium usually hosts find their way inside to root for their squad.
 
Derby day in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The smell of bife and empanadas fills the air. River Plate and Boca Juniors will measure up once more in search of bragging rights.
 
The season is slowly maturing, and Boca's uninspired start has them middling in the table, far away from its accustomed top spot.
 
River finds itself close to the summit but nonetheless looking up to undefeated Vélez Sársfield.
 
El Superclásico will once again draw attention from the footballing world as instances of its spectacular nature are well documented, with an English newspaper going so far as to say that it is the premier sporting event a person can witness.
 
Boca Juniors' home ground, La Bombonera, is almost entirely draped in blue and yellow, with signs, posters, and stencil sketches of legends past and present adorning the rafters.
 
The referee checks his watch. The ball has been placed in midfield. The sound of his whistle blowing crests over the chants, the screaming and the ambient noise.
 
The matches begin.
 
Guadalajara flies out of the gate, while América—the league’s most successful visitor this season—responds in kind. In the first five minutes, both teams have already squandered clear chances in front of goal.
 
The crowd oohs and aahs after every shot, pass and foul. Guadalajara’s Alberto Medina lives up to the No. 10 stamped on the back of his uniform by dancing around opponents, filtering precise passes to his forwards and taking shot after shot.
 
On the other side, América’s Angel Reyna looks inspired. Partnering with Robert de Pinho and Enrique Esqueda upfront has been fruitless so far, but Reyna’s individual effort has brought his team close to scoring.
 
His excitement at times needs tapering, as his legs charge after the ball with blinding speed, only to leave it behind.
 
Despite the now chronic misses from both squads, and the fantastic interventions from both goalkeepers, there is that familiar feeling in the air. There will be a goal today.
 
Millions wonder…where will it come from?
 
Lucas Barrios answers the call. The Argentinian striker had slumped through this season, mirroring his team’s performance. Only 12 minutes have gone by when Barrios pierces Universidad’s net.
 
Barrios will do exactly the same 21 minutes later, and Colo-Colo jumps out to a 2-0 lead. The crowd is stunned. If only for this first half, the defending champions look more like their usual selves and not like a team only a few points away from the bottom of the table.
 
Universidad fights back with a couple of good chances, but come away with nothing. The first half is nearing its end, and once again—a derby match is defying logic. Universidad’s success this season had been prompted by a solid defense and cohesive play upfront.
 
Those things have all but disappeared today.
 
The first half ends. The teams drift into the dressing room, the home crowd goes quiet, and there’s 15 minutes of discussion for both managers and their players.
 
Eagerly, both teams fire back onto the pitch.
 
Boca Juniors have definitely made their presence felt in the opening 45 minutes, but have nothing to show for it.
 
River’s insistence on cutting down Boca’s offense has definitely been made easier without Juan Román Riquelme prowling about, but River have done little to further their own attack.
 
River’s back line is bending instead of breaking, but that elasticity is coming to grips with an increasing force. The home crowd feels it, they push their beloved xeneizes on and sooner, rather than later, there is more danger to report.
 
The eternal Martin Palermo gets a hold of one and punctures his rival’s net. The stadium is a madhouse, and Boca is now just a half hour away from taking the 184th battle in an endless war.
 
River Plate reacts. The manager sends on two substitutions that push toward a more offensive style. They take effect almost immediately, with one of the subs, Diego Buonanotte, winning a dangerous free kick in the 67th minute.
 
One minute later, former PSG player and River idol Marcelo Gallardo lines up his shot. It soars over the wall and Boca goalkeeper Pato Abbondanzieri adorns the play with his leap, but can do nothing else.
 
We are tied after 68 minutes.
 
But not a minute after, thanks to Guadalajara’s Sergio Amaury Ponce. Sneaking behind América’s distracted back line, he rockets a header past Mexico’s first-choice goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the box.
 
There’s a simultaneous clash of utter elation and crushing despair in the Jalisco stands. Those clad in red and white bounce about their seats, bodies coming together in embraces, high fives and kisses.
 
The ones wearing yellow and blue hold back their bitterness, shaking their heads, muttering “not again.”
 
Not again.
 
Colo-Colo has risen from the ashes. Even after Universidad cuts the deficit to one after a Juan Manuel Olivera goal, Colo-Colo does not relent, and Luis Pedro Figueroa streaks through the U’s defense to put an exclamation mark on El Cacique’s performance.
 
The Universidad response is tepid. Lunging towards a goal that would put the pressure back on, they lose the ball several times and look more in danger of giving up a fourth than scoring a second.
 
It is done.
 
The clashing titans in La Bombonera see-saw for the remainder of the game to no avail. A Boca shot here, a River run there. Reporters begin writing their drafts for articles and crafting their questions for post-game interviews.
 
Both sets of fans chant and push their teams on, but there’s a growing sense of a stalemate being in the works.
 
América and Universidad push on desperately. Colo-Colo and Guadalajara cruise. River Plate and Boca Juniors fight tooth and nail. A continent looks on.
 
The referee checks his watch, and asks for the ball. There is no more time. The games are over.
 
There is sadness, relief, anger, happiness, disappointment, joy and a million more emotions associated with the same game, only heightened.
 
This is derby day. This is what we live for.

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