Topping the bill in this weekend’s final round of games of Mexico’s regular league season is the meeting between America and Pumas UNAM. Known across the country as El clásico capitalino, this Mexico City derby pits together two fiery foes who have been at loggerheads for decades.

Pumas began life when the heads of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) decided to set up a team that reflected the spirit of the seat of learning. Following an abortive attempt to found the club in 1937, they met with greater success three years later, and by 1962 the university side had made its way up to the Mexican First Division. Their top-flight debut came against city neighbours America, a 2-0 defeat for Los Pumas representing the first act of what would become a great rivalry.

One of the oldest football clubs in the land, America owe their beginnings to a 13-year-old by the name of Rafael Garza Gutierrez, who, along with some friends from a religious school, founded a club called Record. Shortly afterwards, on 12 October 1916, the teenager’s team merged with another school side called Colon, and America came into being.

Las Águilas went through many crises and reversals of fortune in the years that followed until, in 1959, the club was sold to Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, the head of Mexican television group Telesistema. The takeover proved a turning point in its history, with America going on to become one of the biggest sides in the land and revelling in its role as the club everyone loved to hate.

Encounters between the two were more than mere football matches. While Pumas represented the romantic, bohemian idealism of university students out to change the world, America symbolised the power of the monied classes and spared no expense in making big-name signings. Those ideological differences set large sections of the population against each other whenever the two sides came face to face.

Facts and figures
Las Águilas have held the upper hand ever since that first meeting, having won 41 of their 120 meetings with Pumas, losing 29 and drawing the remaining 50. That said, there has been little to choose between them in recent times, with America winning six matches and Pumas five since the Torneo Verano 2000.

Successful on the domestic front, the big-city duo have also starred on the international scene, with America having been crowned CONCACAF champions four times in their history and Pumas three, records bettered only by Cruz Azul’s five wins in the competition.

Several of Mexico’s leading players have played in both jerseys, a good number of them joining America straight from the Pumas youth academy. In addition to fabled goalscorers Enrique Borja and Hugo Sanchez, the goalkeeper Adolfo Rios, midfielder Braulio Luna and the strikers Luis Garcia and Moctezuma Serrato have all crossed the divide, Serrato being the only player to have won the Mexican championship with both sides.

Tales of derbies past
Some of their most memorable contests came in the 1980s, the enmity between them being stoked to new levels in the 1984/85 league play-off final, the first time they had come together in the season-ending showpiece. It was a close-run thing, with the two-legged final ending 1-1 on aggregate, leading to a third game on neutral territory in Queretaro, which America won 3-1.

Las Águilas and Pumas have squared off in two more championship play-off finals since then, America winning 4-2 over two legs in 1987/88 and their bitter adversaries exacting revenge three years later. That long-awaited Auriazul success was sealed by a superb winner from Brazilian striker Ricardo Ferreti, who was only playing in the game after coach Miguel Mejia Baron had convinced him to delay his retirement for a season. 

Luis Garcia, a key figure in that championship triumph, had jumped ship by the time the two sides met in a vital regular league season encounter five years later. With a play-off place at stake, it was the former Pumas front man who proved decisive, scoring one of the two goals that sent America through to the knockout phase. 

One of the best-remembered contests in recent times was the 2002 league semi-final, when America disposed of their old foes en route to the title, although Pumas’ 4-3 win the following season – the highest-scoring game in the history of El clásico capitalino – was equally unforgettable.

A poignant moment in the rivalry came in 1977, when Borja, one of the band of players to have turned out for both Pumas and America, played his final game in a derby meeting between the two at the Azteca. After scoring his only ever goal for Las Águilas against his old club, the veteran striker made a beeline for the referee at the final whistle. “I said to him, ‘I’m taking this ball home, you know’,” he recalled. “I grabbed hold of it and kissed it, and not just because of that goal but for everything that had gone before it.”

The rivalry today
The long-standing rivals have hardly distinguished themselves in the 2010 Torneo Apertura. Though America have booked their place in the play-offs, they will need to improve to go the distance, while Pumas need results elsewhere to go their way to clinch a place in the top eight.

Given the fact Pumas have yet to win away from home all season, their hopes of success at the Azteca look to be slim, especially with America having lost only once at their stronghold in the last three league competitions. But as any student of derbies knows, form and history count for little when it comes to cross-town rivalries, particularly one as intense as El clásico capitalino.