Chivas Guadalajara got off to a dream start at the Club World Cup on Saturday.
Then it all fell apart. And with it, perhaps Mexico’s best chance to win the Club World Cup.
Asian champion Kashima Antlers rallied from an early deficit and held off a late charge to defeat Chivas 3-2 in the Club World Cup on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Kashima will now play Real Madrid in the semifinals on Wednesday.
While Chivas is by no means the best Liga MX team right now, the club qualified for the tournament by virtue of its Concacaf Champions League final victory over Toronto FC back in April, a win that essentially broke one of the best MLS teams ever.
Guadalajara finished 11th in the 2018 Apertura, even failing to qualify for the Liguilla. But it’s still a capable side.
So with the Club World Cup more wide open than ever, this was a disappointing loss for Liga MX.
The FIFA Club World Cup has been dominated by European clubs for a long time, with 10 of the last 11 winners hailing from Europe. Only South American clubs have been able to break the European hegemon and it’s rare when a final doesn’t feature the European champs against the South American champs.
But this year, with Real Madrid struggling and River Plate in the midst of a whirlwind last few weeks, this might’ve been the best opportunity for a Concacaf team to break through and if not win the tournament, at least reach the final for the first time ever.
Real Madrid is a shadow of the team that won the 2018 UEFA Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo moved on to Juventus, Zinedine Zidane stepped down as coach and the players that were left behind did not receive any significant transfers to make up for the losses. Add to that Gareth Bale being injured (again), and this European champion is more beatable than most.
River Plate meanwhile had to survive the wild Superclasico Copa Libertadores final to claim South America’s berth in the Club World Cup. The first leg against archrival Boca Juniors was postponed by rain and the second leg was postponed two weeks after River fans attacked the Boca team bus. Ultimately the second leg was played in Madrid, and River Plate has had little time to turn around and prepare for the Club World Cup.
River will face Al-Ain in the other semifinal after the host-nation club won two straight matches to reach the semifinals. Al-Ain, in the Club World Cup as the UAE’s best team, rallied from down 3-0 to beat Team Wellington of Oceania in penalties on Wednesday before taking down African champion Espérance de Tunis 3-0 on Saturday.
Chivas will now play Espérance on Tuesday for fifth place.
But it could’ve been so much better for the Liga MX club. On Saturday, Ángel Zaldívar scored in the third minute to give Guadalajara the perfect start.
But the second half belonged to Kashima Antlers.
Ryota Nagaki scored four minutes into the second half to draw Kashima level.
Serginho then made it 2-1 by converting a penalty kick in the 69th minute.
Hiroki Abe punctuated the comeback with this beautiful goal from the edge of the 18.
Chivas was given a lifeline in the 94th minute with a penalty kick. While Alan Pulido’s shot was saved, he followed up and forced an own goal from Léo Silva to make it 3-2.
But there wasn’t enough time for a full comeback and Liga MX’s best chance at reaching the final of a Club World Cup was over.