MEXICO CITY -- The image that will define Saturday's 200th Clasico Nacional between Club America and Chivas -- which ended with America winning 4-1 -- will be the gaping wound in Giovani dos Santos' right thigh.
Few times in football do you see players so shaken by looking down at a teammate lying on the ground and imploring the medical staff to enter the field of play. The high challenge in the 37th minute from Chivas defender Antonio Briseno was ill-measured and dangerous and should lead to an extended suspension.
Thankfully, the visual impact of the bloody cut and open wound was greater than the actual medical damage done, and the 30-year-old Dos Santos was smiling in his hospital bed Sunday morning with the knowledge that he still has a chance to play again this season.
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The incident and Guillermo Ochoa's sprint to confront Briseno right after it -- with a photo suggesting that he spat toward the Chivas player, which Ochoa denied -- overshadowed what had actually gone on in the game.
Ochoa niega escupitajo sobre Antonio Briseño ❌https://t.co/AHnP0i6L5Z— Futbol Picante (@futpicante) September 29, 2019
It was easy to forget that Luis Fernando Tena was making his debut on the Chivas bench, that Club America was coming into the match after six matches without a victory and that this was a crucial match for both sides, with only six rounds of games remaining in the 2019 Apertura.
Arguably, the most pertinent moment to highlight the reality of these two teams in Sunday's America victory wasn't Francisco Sebastian Cordova -- a midfielder with a bright future -- scoring twice, the Chivas sending offs or even Dos Santos' injury. Instead, it was the referee blowing the final whistle on the 90-minute mark, when really there should've been at least three minutes to add on.
"The referee should be fair. Why's he blowing on the 45th minute at the end of the game?" America coach Miguel Herrera said in a news conference afterward. "It doesn't matter if you are winning by 20 goals. You should play the necessary time. There were two VAR calls, four substitutions. I thought there should be more time."
Why did referee Fernando Guerrero do so? The only reasonable explanation is that it was a mercy ending from the referee with the game so one-sided.
Few times over the 200 official games played in Mexico's biggest rivalry can there have been a 30-minute period in which one side had 82.3% possession and outshot the opposition 16-0 like in the last half-hour Saturday. The sending off of Alan Cervantes to reduce Chivas to 10 players in the 73rd minute obviously made things nearly impossible for Chivas, but the expected goals projections were 2.89 to 0.20 over the 90 minutes. Make no mistake: There was only ever one team likely to win Saturday's Clasico.
Just imagine a Real Madrid against Barcelona game or River Plate versus Boca Juniors coming to an end ahead of time due to the referee not wanting one of the teams to suffer any more.
For America, this was a win to extend its undefeated run against Chivas to six games and get its Apertura back on track, and for Chivas, it was a reminder of the widening gap between Mexico's two biggest and most successful clubs.
America has changed its DNA this decade, with the club plugging itself into the world market. The club still produces players (Edson Alvarez, Diego Lainez, Cordova), but it now also signs quality South Americans to sell on (Agustin Marchesin and Mateus Uribe) and does smart business (as the signing of Uruguayan Federico Vinas seems to be).
But for Chivas, the defeat once again highlighted the meandering, directionless path it has been traveling down, with sporting directors, head coaches and GMs sucked in and spat out under increasingly desperate circumstances. The all-Mexican club needs a lift, something to tell fans that there is reason to be hopeful and that the future will be brighter. Bringing in Tena to replace the unpopular Tomas Boy last week wasn't the solution to deliver that hope.
Short of the Vergara family selling the club, which is unlikely, given that TV rights are now more open and inexperienced club president Amaury Vergara has just taken complete control. It's not clear how Chivas will lift themselves out of the long-term rut that they are in, especially if the money isn't there to compete for buying the best Mexican players. In some ways, veteran Oribe Peralta moving from Club America to Chivas over the summer and frankly looking past it sums up the difference between the two clubs.
But part of the problem with Chivas could be that they remain successful off the field even when things aren't going well on it. Relegation is still a grey area in Liga MX, and there's no chance that Guadalajara will go down with Veracruz still floating around. As long as that is the case, Chivas will remain popular and will be covered extensively by the Mexican press, fans will buy shirts, and TV rights will sell for big money.
Unless any of that somehow changes or Chivas put a cohesive, ambitious plan together on the sporting side of the club, it's reasonable to expect that the one-sided nature of Saturday's Clasico will be repeated in coming editions.