After securing a valuable 0-0 draw in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, Mexican giants Monterrey find themselves on the verge of achieving a remarkable feat. If they defeat Santos Laguna in the return match on Wednesday, Los Rayados will not only be crowned continental champions, but will book a third successive appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup.
In the two previous finals, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s charges have had to work hard to lift the regional trophy. In 2011, they pulled off a heroic 1-0 win away to Real Salt Lake, a victory which had looked unlikely after the MLS side had recorded a 2-2 draw in Mexico.
In 2012, also against Santos Laguna, they withstood terrific pressure from the home team in the second leg to eventually emerge 3-2 aggregate winners. Monterrey will likely look to these terrific accomplishments for inspiration as they aim to take their place among the world’s elite in Morocco in December.
Keeping it tight
After having kept a clean sheet in the eventful away leg in Torreon last week, Monterrey’s players will be aware that their chance of success could depend on preventing Santos Laguna from scoring, as with the away goals rule in place (during 90 minutes), a successful strike on behalf of the visitors could be crucial to deciding the outcome of the match.
“That’s what we want,” Monterrey defender Jose Maria Basanta told FIFA.com.
“We know it’s critical that we don’t concede a goal, because then we’d be forced to score twice to win on aggregate. Our defence has discussed this together, and we believe the key is not to lose our focus, because they have some great forwards who can pounce in the blink of an eye,” continued the 29-year-old Argentinian, who has been with the club for five years and is a key performer at the back.
Basanta’s defensive team-mate Hiram Mier is in agreement about the responsibility that lies on their shoulders, and re-states the need for total concentration.
“We’re a very organised side – we’ve come on leaps and bounds in that department. We know that this is a final, and that in finals mistakes are simply not permitted. This trophy is a goal that we set ourselves at the beginning of the season and now we’re ready to take that last step,” stated the 23-year-old with the confidence of a player who has developed into a first-team regular.
Auspiciously, the Nueva Leon-based outfit go into the clash with Santos Laguna on the back of an excellent 1-0 triumph over rivals Tigres in the Monterrey derby, practically ensuring themselves of a spot in the Liguilla (play-offs) in the process.
It is little wonder, then, that the players’ motivation and morale are high. “We couldn’t really have hoped for a better way of preparing for this game. The idea now is that we go on from here and reach more finals, both in Mexico and abroad,” said experienced Ecuadorian midfielder Walter Ayovi.
Leobardo Lopez, scorer of the winning goal against Tigres at the weekend, is keen to emphasise the role of experience. “It’s hugely important,” said the centre-back, who previously played at two FIFA Club World Cups with Pachuca.
“Playing a final is no easy task; only those that have been on the winning side know what it feels like, and we have to seize our chance. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to fall into the trap of being overconfident. Santos Laguna are a superb team with great players, and we’ll have to be smart if we want to avoid an unpleasant surprise,” he explained.
When it comes to experience, the Monterrey players could do worse than listen to team-mate Ricardo Osorio, who at the age of 33 has played in some of the world’s most high-profile tournaments, such as the FIFA World Cup™, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, to name but three.
“We have the necessary experience, and we’re all very excited about winning this competition. On top of that, we’ve got the best fans in Mexico on our side, so our spirits are high. I think it will be an unforgettable night,” he said, exhibiting the self-assurance of a man accustomed to success.