Ten games in Mexico including the CONCACAF Champions League final plus a visit to Guatemala for a league match.
21st April Puebla 4 Chivas Guadalajara 2 Copa MX final c. 20,000 (c. 15,000 away)
Two hours or so south from Mexico City is Puebla.
There are very frequent buses from TAPO in the capital and I took one, arriving at 13.30
Puebla are playing at the Universitario stadium BUAP while their main ground is being updated.
Its a partially covered single tier stadium with curved ends and a track.
Most inside on this Tuesday night were supporting Chivas with a couple of groups of flag waving home ultras in the left hand end.
Despite both teams resting players and the relative low key nature of the competition this was an incident-packed game that had nearly everything.
Six goals, two penalties, a red card and a dramatic floodlight failure.
It began with the home side scoring early when Erpen headed in from a free kick, and they did something similar on 25 minutes when the tall Luis Rey converted.
Puebla might have had a couple more in the first half with Argentinian Alustiza being amongst those guilty of missing chances.
It ended 2-0 at half time but soon it was 2-2 after Jesus de Nigris had scored two quick goals.
But that was as good as it got for Chivas who would concede a penalty (for handball) soon after, scored easily by Alustiza.
Worse followed for the team from Guadalajara as Alustiza broke away to get the clincher on 67 minutes and ten minutes later Marin received a red card for a bad tackle.
And they also missed a penalty, for another handball, with Ponce being the culprit.
Later in the second half we saw a cameo from legendary striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, now aged 42. He would have his chance but, perhaps inevitably, failed to show the sharpness needed.
The final drama, just as the official showed 5 minutes of extra time, was when the floodlights failed.
The fans got out their mobiles for an impressive scene.
But fortunately most of the lights were restored after about 10 minutes and Puebla could celebrate.
22nd April America 1 Montreal Impact 1 CONCACAF Champions League final 56,783 (c. 100 away)
In a competition that has been dominated by Mexican teams it came as a surprise to see Montreal take the lead after 16 minutes through Ignacio Piatti.
The visitors were bidding to become the first Canadian team to win this event and thus participate in the Club World Cup.
And they came very close to causing a shock holding out until the final minutes before conceding an equaliser.
Montreal, captained by ex-West Ham and Aston Villa midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, certainly had plenty of defending to do particularly against the threats posed by star man Rubens Sambueza .
The Argentinian came close on a few occasions especially with a searching left foot strike that hit the bar in the second period.
But the visitors were not without chances themselves and from one of their breakaways striker Oduro was pulled back - a situation that seemed to warrant a red card for an America defender.
However only a yellow was produced and the Mexicans annulled the resultant free kick.
America eventually substituted the ineffectual Dario Benedetto (who looked nothing like a hat-trick scorer from the previous round) for Oribe Peralta and the change would subsequently make the difference.
Although he missed a couple of opportunities Peralta was able to head in a cross in the final minute to the crowd’s delight.
That set up a frantic finale in which the home side might have got the winner.
But that would have been tough on Montreal who had generally defended heroically.
They deserved the draw and their small group of fans (well policed) in the upper right corner of the ageing, but still atmospheric Azteca stadium, could enjoy the moment.
Whether Montreal can complete the task back at home is perhaps still unlikely but with a sellout crowd forecast they have a decent chance of making history.
I decided not to take the miniscule train (plus metro) back towards the centre and opted for a relatively expensive taxi ride home to Zona Rosa.
Incidentally much recommended for a visit is the Anthropology museum in Chapultepec Park
which provides a comprehensive history of the region including such gems as the origins of the Aztecs being from one city where the colour white was predominant and another story that if you drank too much of one substance you were liable to be attacked by 100 rabbits.
23rd April Necaxa 1 Dorados 2 Ascenso MX semi-final 12,339
No rabbits were noticed in Aguascalientes, a 6 hour bus ride north from the capital.
Necaxa has had top level success in the past and they were bidding to return to Liga MX.
Whereas Dorados Sinaloa were founded just 11 years ago.
But it was the visitors, playing in black with a fetish for high numbers, who signalled their intent by going close with a move down the left.
Something similar happened on 26 minutes when Rodrigo Prieto shot past the home goalie.
He would add a second a couple of minutes later, helped by a knock down from tall Panama striker Roberto Nurse.
That brought groans from the locals.
Necaxa brought on small playmaker Carlos Hurtado in the second half and his promptings would make some difference.
But it took until minute 84 before they managed to get what turned out to be only a consolation goal.
I was back in the centre just as most of the restaurants were closing and as the Mariachi players were drifting home.
Tigers devour Roosters.
24th April Queretaro 1 Tigres UANL 3 Liga MX 28,834 (c. 400 away)
And on to the fine city of Queretaro which features a splendid historic centre.
And a very atmospheric stadium, one that was used during the Word Cup of 1986.
Both sides featured foreign stars including ex-Real Betis striker Rafael Sobis up front for Tigres.
But sadly for your correspondent the biggest name, Ronaldinho, was restricted to warming up on the sidelines.
Perhaps some of his skills might have made a difference but on the other hand the visitors looked unstoppable especially after going three up in the first half.
Damian Alvarez stunned the passionate home crowd with a strike from 25 yards for the opener.
Colombian Joffre Guerron headed in a second then Alvarez followed up Guerron’s shot to make it 0-3 on 41 minutes.
That third may have been flagged for offside but it stood and the home crowd showed their feelings as the players departed for half-time.
Queretaro had mixed long balls with a steady build up but failed to cause too many problems near goal.
They made changes for the second period and one of the newcomers, full-back Gutierrez, would be on hand to head in a reply.
And for a while it looked like more would follow with striker Emanuel Villa nearly diverting in number two.
That certainly raised the noise levels but ultimately Tigres, the only Mexican side left in the Copa Libertadores, weathered the storm and in the end ran out fairly comfortably winners.
The result meant they were joint top, at least for a while.
And it left Queretaro, who beat America 4-0 at the Azteca in their previous league match, with some thinking to do.
Back in centro historico I had a couple of glasses of vino blanco whilst enjoying the ambience on a warm evening.
Only one moment of quality.
25th April Monterrey 1 Morelia 0 Liga MX 32,757 (c. 30 away)
This was one of the last matches to be scheduled at the spacious Estadio Tecnologico.
The ground has a large two-tier main stand plus some substantial open seating and a mostly empty end to the right.
Overlooked by a cloud-topped mountain it was another of the 1986 World Cup stadiums.
A decent sized crowd turned out a warm evening but they witnessed a moderate encounter.
Indeed the match featured the worst first half of my trip so far with a fragmented 45 minutes ‘highlighted’ by various stoppages due to an injury to the Morelia goalkeeper.
The interruptions halted any flow to the game.
It was only later in the second half that we saw a moment of quality when Colombian Dorlan Pabon drove in a right footer, with minimal backlift, from a free kick routine.
The other moment of significance was when Morelia’s Morales was shown a red card for a tackle.
That certainly didn’t help the bottom club’s chances although they did have a goal ruled out for offside.
But Monterrey would close out the match and get the points.
I took a taxi back to my hotel near the airport and had an early night ready for a morning flight to Guadalajara for the ‘super clasico’.
Goats draw with Eagles.
26th April Chivas Guadalajara 1 America 1 45,174 (c. 5,000 away)
Chivas now play in the Omnilife stadium isolated to the west of the city entailing a longish walk (as often happens at the World Cup for example) after a taxi ride from the central area.
Unlike in South America or say, Belgrade, the fans are often mixed together and that results in a slightly incongruous, if old-style situation.
But the home ultras did their best in the lower section of the right hand end in a section reminiscent of German grounds.
The match itself was divided into a first half favouring the visitors and a second more for the home side.
America’s Paul Aguilar shot home a superb right foot effort into the top corner on 16 minutes.
A slight deflection probably helped but it looked unstoppable either way.
The classy Rubens Sambueza supplied the ball for Aguilar and he was often the focal point of America’s attack.
His absence in the second period probably contributed to them being less successful.
But the introduction of Aldo de Nigris definitely helped Chivas - his striking instincts showed when he received the ball to the right of the area, beat his man and shot home the leveller.
After that a draw seemed on the cards although Osvaldo Martinez might have won it for America later in the game.
But it ended in parity leaving Chivas just ahead at the top of Liga MX with two games remaining.
I walked up the dusty road with many other fans and took a taxi back to Guadalajara Expo and my hotel.
29th April Comunicaciones 1 Guastatoya 0 National League c. 1,000
As there were no midweek games in Mexico I took the relatively short, and reasonably inexpensive, trip to Guatemala City for this top level match.
Due to the local traffic it took about an hour to get from my hotel in zone 10 to the Estadio Cementos Progreso.
Once there you see a decent sized 3-sided stadium with limited cover and an artificial pitch.
Both the lack of cover and the type of surface would be factors later on.
The crowd numbers, I was told, were fairly typical with no away fans allowed and restrictions on the activities of the ultras. All that together with the location meant, despite the home team being top of the league, the thin turnout.
And perhaps the weather forecast may also have been a factor.
The first half saw Mexican Agustin Herrera go close a couple of times for the home side who pressed forward for most of the match.
Then during the half-time break we had a serious thunderstorm and torrential rain that continued for the remainder of the encounter.
In different circumstances the match would have been abandoned but, after a short delay, the players carried on helped by the quality of the pitch.
Most of crowd quickly sought cover although the ultras remained in position, ignoring the deluge.
Eventually the home side got the result they deserved when defender Wilson Lalin headed in the winner with about five minutes left on the clock.
Comunicaciones would thus go into the play-offs as league leaders.
Afterwards my local contact negotiated the wet roads and delivered me, via the dark central streets, back to my hotel.
1st May Morelia 1 Queretaro 2 Liga MX 30,080 (c. 700 away)
Morelia is 4 hours west from the capital on the bus and on this Friday there was a festive feel to the centre, as there was in the stadium.
We had a background of Mariachi music and the usual half time entertainment.
And this time the main man appeared greeted by plenty of applause - it seemed fans of both clubs were happy to see Ronaldinho strut his stuff.
And his stuff was first time touches and passing harking back to a previous era.
But before all that Colombian Cuero had tested the visiting goalie and William da Silva did the same for Queretaro.
After a bright start the game settled down and it was not until Ronny came on in the second half that we saw the formative action.
First Cuero cracked a shot against the bar then a penalty was given for a push on Emanuel Villa.
Who else but Ronaldinho to take the spot-kick ?
He scored comfortably enough and we saw the characteristic grin and some disco dance moves.
But Morelia then got a penalty of their own for a foul in the area and that was converted for the leveller.
And just when it seemed the bottom club would gain a useful point they self-destructed with two defenders going for the same ball leaving striker Villa to shoot home the winner.
Back in the centro historico the music continued.
Mayweather wins, as does Santos.
2nd May Pachuca 2 Santos Laguna 3 Liga MX 21,356 (c. 200 away)
As there was no convenient bus from Morelia direct to Pachuca I went via Mexico City arriving at the Holiday Inn in good time for the 8.06 pm (US-style) kick-off.
The hotel is close to the bus station and the stadium and though pricey as well as convenience it would also offer the Pacquiao v Mayweather fight later that night.
This match, between two mid-table teams, might have been a draw but the difference was the speedy away forwards.
Both Colombian Renteria and the Cape Verdean Djaniny offered substantial pace on the breakaway.
But before that Pachuca had gone ahead through Junior Sornoza who shot into the corner from just outside the area.
However a minute before the break a quick free kick found Renteria and he was brought down by the home goalie.
Nestor Calderon converted his first penalty to make it 1-1.
The visiting forwards would capitalise further in the second period with both striking the ‘woodwork’ before Calderon delivered the second spot-kick on 77 mins.
That signalled the departure of many home fans as Santos wasted time.
But we had a flurry of action near the end with sub. Escoboza breaking away, fending off a defender, to score the clincher.
The final strike from close range by the home side was too late to affect the result.
I made it back to the hotel in good time to see Mayweather overcome the locally favoured Pacquiao.
3rd May Pumas UNAM 0 Cruz Azul 1 Liga MX 31,529 (c. 5,000 away)
So back to Mexico City for this clasico played in the historic Estadio Olimpico.
If Bob Beamon was watching I hope he had a better, and more comfortable, view than your correspondent since the stadium retains concrete seating and poor sightlines.
Plus if you were seated too low down you might well get drenched from the beer thrown from the upper tiers.
However that said anywhere that produces such history has a definite fascination.
And for the first time on this trip it felt a bit more like a ‘proper’ clasico with large numbers of police, both inside and outside, guarding the away fans.
The odd fight broke out, including one near me, albeit between two Pumas fans.
The game itself also seemed like a typical derby game with limited flow and too many mistakes.
The deciding goal, on 34 minutes, was from a right wing cross that found its way to experienced Paraguayan Roque Santa Cruz who had an easy task of slotting home from close range.
Santa Cruz displayed good hold-up skills and aerial power although in a typically languid style.
As the game wore on chances were limited but Herrera for Pumas and Vela for Cruz both had decent opportunities.
With the constant movement of vendors and the occasional downpour from above there were plenty of distractions but not too much to get excited about on the pitch.
At the end I passed the police formations and took the long walk through the sizeable University grounds to the metro and returned to my hotel in Zona Rosa.
Later I enjoyed a margarita and some ribs.
Tigers draw with students.
5th May Tigres UANL 1 Universitario (Bol) 1 Copa Libertadores c. 37,000
I returned to Monterrey to see the other big team in the city.
The Estadio Universitario is easily reachable using the metro and it presents a vibrant atmosphere on nights such as these.
Of the games on this trip the Tigres fans generally provided the best atmosphere (not that it really compared to a big game in South America)
The Azteca is historic, as is the Estadio Olimpico and the clasico played there felt more visceral plus Queretaro have a fine stadium but overall Tigres had the edge.
The home side took a 2-1 lead into this second leg round-of-16 encounter against Universitario from Sucre.
But, as they did in the first match, the visitors scored early to stun the locals.
Ruben de la Cuesta drove into the area and his shot just about eluded Guzman in the home goal to go in off the post.
The remainder of the first half saw few chances with the Bolivians defending adequately and Tigres creating few opportunities.
But the scenario changed after half-time when pacy Ecuador forward Joffre Guerron appeared.
His presence would eventually make the difference.
Tigres were obviously told to step up and they soon made chances with Lugo going close.
But it was not until the 75 minute that they equalised.
Guerron and Alvarez were both involved as a penalty was given for the home side.
Experienced ex-Betis star Rafael Sobis coolly obliged with the spot-kick.
And that was enough for the Tigers who withheld any late pressure and probably should have won the match late on.
They thus remain the Mexican representative in the quarter finals although I expect them to come across a more difficult opponent next time around.
I managed to walk around inside half the stadium before getting the metro, then a taxi, back to my San Pedro hotel.
A note on Monterrey - in some areas it feels very much like the States, perhaps not surprising since the border is not so far.
And the central architecture might have been called ‘space age’ in a different era.
The Museum of Modern Art is an example as is the area around the Museum of Mexican History.
Both are recommended for a visit - checkout the pictures of Pancho Villa and Zapata (although I didn’t see one of Davy Crockett)
So ended my eleven games, ten in Mexico and one in Guatemala.
The matches in Mexico were often good entertainment, played in interesting stadiums before decent attendances.
In some ways it felt like Spain but with a bit more passion.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/3409397326