Some rivalries in sport are thrust on the public in a bid to superficially generate interest. Then are organic rivalries that spawn through two opponents rising to the top of their sport, league or region. It’s very much in the latter category that the growing rivalry between Santos Laguna and Monterrey fits snugly.
Since 2010, the two clubs have fought out two finals in the Liga MX and one in the CONCACAF Champions League. On Wednesday, the first leg of 2013 CCL final will be the latest edition of an increasingly intense rivalry between two clubs looking to transcend the Liga MX and book their places on the global stage at the Club World Cup in December in Morocco.
For Monterrey, Wednesday’s game is bigger than Saturday’s clasico against Tigres, which is possibly the most intense game the Liga MX has to offer.
"We’re playing a final. That is more important than a clasico," Ricardo Osorio said.
Or in the words of Santos ‘keeper Oswaldo Sanchez: "You could call games against Rayados clasicos because we play important things like finals and championships. Monterrey-Tigres is three points and nothing else."
The short 200-mile trip between Torreon and Monterrey guarantees fans will travel and that there is a regional aspect to the rivalry, with northern clubs in Mexico dominating in recent years, but there’s much more to it than that.
For Santos Laguna, internationalizing the club has been an ongoing priority since Alejandro Irarragori took over the club as president in 2007. Agreements with Celtic, Nacional (Ecuador) and Atletico Nacional (Colombia) have followed, but what the club really wants is the chance to make an impact at the Club World Cup.
“At the international level we have looked to transcend in a multitude of ways, but we haven’t managed to do so with a championship,” said Irarragori in the build-up to the game. “It would be the finishing touch.”
A lot of money has been spent on crafting a squad to compete both domestically and on the continental fronts, and Irarragori took a huge risk in hiring little-known Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha in the offseason to replace the popular Benjamin Galindo.
Since then, the shrewd Caixinha has been gradually molding his squad from a force built to outgun teams, to one that is extremely difficult to score against.
On the Monterrey side, consistency in terms of players and coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has served the club well. The Rayados will be at their third consecutive Club World Cup if they win the series and they too have made the competition a priority.
There’s no playing B teams for either of the two. They know how big attending a Club World Cup is for reputation, sponsorship and getting their club’s name on the world footballing map.
On paper, however, the Guerreros go into the game as slight favorites, with the defensive record it boasts and more consistent form, plus Friday’s 1-0 Liga MX victory. But counting Monterrey out, with players like Humberto Suazo, Aldo de Nigris and Jesus Corona, would be unwise, and you can be sure no one in Monterrey will be in any way overawed.
Yet although they might be rivals, it’s also worth pointing out that the clubs share some strikingly similarities. Both were saved from financial trouble by huge brewery corporations and both have since spent large amounts of pesos on attracting some of the best players in the Liga MX. According to a recent report in Forbes, Suazo earns $3 million per annum and is the highest paid player in Mexico, while Sanchez is the best compensated Mexican player in the league followed by De Nigris.
With that perspective, it’s much less of a surprise that these teams are meeting with increased regularity in finals. Santos Laguna and Monterrey are bringing the type of attitude to the CCL that the competition merits. Bring on the final.
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