• Wednesday Nov 14, 2012

    Xelaju and Medford make history

    QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala -- For Guatemalan football in general, Xelaju's qualification for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League at the expense of a Mexican club was something of a novelty. For the Guatemalan champion's Costa Rican coach Hernan Medford, though, slaying regional giants has become something of a habit.

    In his days as a player for perennial Costa Rican power Saprissa, Medford had already tasted victory over Mexican clubs in international play. "The Pelican," as Medford is affectionately known, was also key to his nation's famous victory in the Azteca on the road to the 2002 World Cup, an upset win that came to be known familiarly as "El Aztecazo."

    "It's a great feeling, but it's not the first time," Medford told press after Thursday night's game in Guadalajara. "It's the third time that I've had the chance to knock out a Mexican club in the CONCACAF Champions League.But this is more due to the players. I just put in a little."

    Even if Xelaju couldn't beat Chivas in their stadium, falling 2-1, Medford's team knew exactly what was required to qualify from Group 8. The Guatemalans scored the goal they needed to maintain the edge in the head-to-head series, going through on the away goals tiebreaker.

    Xelaju, currently third in the local Apertura table, had already fired a warning shot at the Mexican giant, when it defeated Chivas, 1-0, at home in Quetzaltenango on August 21. Medford felt that experience helped immensely when his team took the field on Thursday night at Estadio Omnilife, knowing it could play on level terms with the fabled Mexican club.

    "We came to play as equals," Medford said. "We had chances to score goals that we couldn't convert, and they did.In the end we had one and we scored, and that was enough to go through with a lot of merit."

    Trailing 2-0 in the second period, the Superchivos responded with a strike from second-half substitute Allen Aleman, who scored just seven minutes after coming on. That sort of tactical acumen, plus the never-say-die attitude and order Medford has brought to Xelaju, has been crucial to the team's success in this edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.

    "This success is attributable to the boys," the coach said. "The important thing is that we didn't come to defend. We knew how to play Chivas; that the 2-1 loss would get us through. The most important thing is what the standings say, that we ended up with a merited first-place finish."

    Much of the post-match questioning of the coach had to do with the elimination of Chivas, since this marked the first time a Mexican team had been knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League in the group phase. The 44-year-old Costa Rican preferred to focus on what his team had accomplished.

    "Let's not minimize Guadalajara to take merit away from Xelaju," the coach declared. "We fully deserved to go through.There won't be any crediting this to if Chivas is playing well or not.Xelaju came to play as an equal with a team with a great tradition."

    Xelaju will now take on another Mexican giant, two-time defending CONCACAF Champions League champion Monterrey, in the quarterfinal round. There is no doubt that it will seek to add another historic achievement to the one earned Thursday in Guadalajara.

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