It had all started so well for CF America. Lining up against Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015, the Mexican outfit took the lead thanks to their tried-and-trusted strike partnership, with Dario Benedetto teeing up Oribe Peralta to put them on the brink of victory in a game they dominated for all but the final ten minutes.

It was in those closing stages, however, that the Chinese outfit conjured up two goals. Before they even knew what had hit them, America had gone from a dream semi-final against Barcelona to the harsh reality of a match for fifth place against TP Mazembe. Though they went on to win their farewell game 2-1, the Mexicans are still smarting at their quarter-final demise.

“It was a consolation match and the chance for us to leave with our heads held high, but we came here with the idea of going further,” lamented a rueful Peralta to FIFA.com, casting his mind back to the match where it all went wrong for his side. “Unfortunately, we made a few errors and it wasn’t to be.

“Even looking back on it now, we still can’t understand it because we were in command for virtually the entire game,” added the Mexico international. “The match went against us though, and we were left with the disappointment of them coming back to beat us in the last five minutes.”

America’s loss of focus in the closing minutes against Guangzhou cost them dear. The resulting wounds will take time to heal, as the man they call El Cepillo (“The Brush”) acknowledged: “We’ll get over it eventually and there’s always the chance for us to come back again next year.”

Already assured of a place in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League as the holders, the Mexicans are but three rounds away from securing what would be their seventh continental title and a return ticket to Japan in 2016.

“We need to move on from what’s happened because there’s nothing we can do now to put it right,” said Peralta, the scorer of 22 goals for his country in 41 appearances. “We have to win the tournament to make sure we’re back here next year. We want to set the record straight, and we need to come back to atone for our mistakes.”

A man for the big occasion
A free-scoring forward who has played for seven Mexican clubs, Peralta impressed once again in Japan, despite his side failing to do the same. “I can’t be happy with our performances,” he insisted, reflecting on America’s showing in Japan and their recent efforts on the domestic front. “We can always give more. We’ve played two tournaments in Mexico this year, losing in the quarter-finals in one and in the semis in the other. With the team that we’ve got, we should be fighting for the title every time.”

Over the years the striker has made a habit of succeeding, collecting four league winners’ medals and also topping the podium with his country at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 and this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Peralta’s latest exploit in the green of Mexico came in the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 play-off against USA, where he scored in extra-time in El Tri’s 3-2 win.

“It’s wonderful to look back on that moment because we went through some very tough times, especially at the Gold Cup,” he said with a smile as he reflected on his year. “It was an incredible feeling to beat USA in the last few minutes of that game.”

That play-off win is far from the only big match in which Peralta has got his name on the scoresheet. His were the goals that gave Mexico a 2-1 victory over Brazil in that Olympic final in London, while he struck in both legs as America overcame Montreal Impact in the final of the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League and also completed the scoring in Mexico’s 3-1 Gold Cup final defeat of Jamaica earlier this year, all of which underlines his prowess in front of goal when it really counts.

“You have to be consistent and want to score the whole time if you’re going to get goals in the games that matter, though that goes for every game really,” he said, discussing his happy knack of popping up on the big occasion. “I always try to score because, the way I see it, every goal is important. It’s my job and it’s what I have to focus on. Every match is vital when it comes to achieving your objectives.”

The logic is undeniable: make a habit of scoring and you are bound to end up finding the net in the big matches, which America will be playing again if they do make their way back to Japan next year.