No one can deny that Mariano Pavone knows how to deliver at the big moments. Some players are experts at snatching consolation efforts, but that is certainly not the case for the Argentinian since he moved to Mexico in 2012. Every single time he has hit the back of the net for Cruz Azul, it has helped earn a positive result. His most recent effort – his 41st for the club – was no exception, making it 2-1 against Western Sydney Wanderers and putting La Máquina on course for a blockbuster FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014 semi-final meeting with Real Madrid.
"Whenever I've scored, we've drawn or won. Luckily I was able to keep that run going today. We came within a whisker of getting knocked out but we showed all our heart [to turn things around]," the 32-year-old told FIFA.com. With 89 minutes on the clock, it looked for all the world like the Australians were going to claim a 1-0 triumph, but then Gerardo Torrado levelled from the penalty spot. This paved the way for another decisive contribution from Cruz Azul's talisman in extra time: when goalkeeper Ante Covic kept out a strike from another Argentina-born player, Christian Gimenez, Pavone was on hand to fire into the empty net.
The attacker's celebration harked back to his childhood: "It was like when I used to play in my village, Tres Sargentos [Buenos Aires province]. When it's wet, it's nice to celebrate like that, by diving into a puddle. I had a little splash around," the man of the moment recounted light-heartedly about his decision to hurl himself into one of the pools of water that had formed on the rain-soaked pitch in Rabat. Indeed, the moment was reminiscent of Diego Maradona's iconic celebration on the touchline during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Peru – a similarity that does not escape Pavone, the forward noting that he "did a Diego".
Staying positive in the face of adversity
Pavone's explosion of joy was particularly understandable considering the huge score he had to settle. In normal time, with the game locked at 0-0, the marksman failed to convert with the keeper beaten. "It was really disappointing because we'd put together a good move and Mauro [Formica, another Argentinian] laid it on a plate for me. I went for placement rather than power because sometimes if you try to smash the ball when it's wet, you end up fluffing it. The defender just managed to get his knee in the way."
El Tanque (The Tank) felt that his reaction to that miss was what enabled him to make amends: "You have to get it out of your system quickly. I tried to gee myself up: you get your confidence flowing by telling yourself that you're going to have another chance, and that's what happened. If I'd have got down on myself earlier, maybe the ball wouldn't have dropped to me the way it did for the goal."
This sort of attitude also served Cruz Azul well when the match seemed to be slipping away from them. In Pavone's words, "We tried to keep passing it and to pin them back in their box. The clock was ticking and we had several chances that didn't go in, but fortunately we kept believing and going for it."
A well-timed equaliser
Torrado's equaliser came in a minute that holds bad memories for Cruz Azul. In the final of the 2013 Clausura tournament against Club America, La Máquina were on the brink of sealing the title, holding a 1-0 lead in the second leg (and a 2-0 advantage on aggregate) in the dying stages. However, they conceded quick-fire goals in the 89th and 92nd minutes and subsequently lost on penalties.
"Today it went our way. It [the 89th minute] had owed us since that final, which was a massive blow. That's football, though: sometimes things go for you and sometimes they don't. Today it worked out for us and hopefully this tournament will make up for what we missed out on that time around."
If Pavone is to get his wish, Cruz Azul will have to sink mighty opposition in the semi-finals: "We know all about Real Madrid's potential, their stars and their 20-match winning streak, but we're going to give it our best shot, through humility, commitment and hard work. We want to make it to the final and no one can take that dream away from us."
"We have to be focused and take our chances. We have players with pace up the wings who can exploit the fact that Madrid defend with a very high line, but [for Cruz Azul to win] we need to be at 110% and for them to have an off-day." Another goal from their lucky charm would not go amiss either.