In Mexico's hottest footballing controversy of recent times, national team coach Ricardo La Volpe's decision not to name Cuauhtemoc Blanco in his provisional 26-man squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ has split the Aztec nation down the middle. Many believe that Blanco's stellar performances in a Mexico shirt, allied with his undoubted footballing genius, should see America's number 10 winging his way over to Germany this summer. On the other hand, there is a widespread belief amongst Tricolor fans that the time has come for Blanco to pass the baton onto a younger generation.
The player himself has vowed to prove La Volpe wrong by unleashing the finest football of his career so far in what remains of 2006, especially as this summer's showpiece tournament may not be his last chance of playing on the global stage.
Six short months later the eyes of the world's football fans will turn to Japan and the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup. This Wednesday could see the maverick forward take a giant step towards achieving his goal, when his side America take on fellow Mexicans Toluca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final.
Whoever comes out on top, they will be looking to follow in the footsteps of reigning CONCACAF champions Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica, who stormed to a third place finish in the 2005 tournament over on Far Eastern soil.
A dish best served cold
As America head into an emotionally-charged first-leg clash at Toluca's Estadio Nemesio Diez, it is not just Blanco who will be gunning for revenge. Las Aguilas (The Eagles) are determined to avenge one of the most painful defeats in their long history, which took place back in 2003 against the same opponents in the very same competition.
In that year's CONCACAF Champions Cup semi-final showdown, America put in a sparkling away performance to trounce Los Diablos Rojos (The Red Devils) 4-1 and take a giant step towards their first CONCACAF title in 11 years. However, Toluca pulled off an incredible comeback with a 4-0 second-leg win in America's hallowed Estadio Azteca, on their way to a League and CONCACAF Champions Cup double.
With memories of that monumental collapse still fresh in their mind, The Eagles and their controversial striker know that they have a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean. America's star-studded line-up boasts another three former FIFA World Cup™ stars, Argentina's Claudio Lopez and Mexico's Germán Villa and Duilio Davino, whilst unpredictable frontman Kleber and fellow Brazilian Irênio also play key roles in one of the continent's strongest sides.
Having disposed of Jamaica's Portmore United (1-2, 5-2) and Costa Rica's Alajuelense (1-2, 0-0) along the way, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and his America team-mates know that if all goes well, December 2006 could see them pitting their wits against the very best that world club football has to offer.