When he guided Toluca to Mexico's Apertura title in 2005, Argentine coach Américo Gallego cemented his reputation as a real Midas man, having won titles at every club he has ever coached. Next up for Gallego and his Diablos Rojos (Red Devils) are Mexican rivals América, Toluca's opponents in the final of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
On the eve of Wednesday's first-leg clash, both sides are fully aware of just how much is at stake, as the winners earn a trip to Japan for December's FIFA Club World Cup. With this in mind, two players currently starring for the Red Devils, Uruguayan Vicente Sánchez and Argentine Rodrigo Díaz, took time out from their pre-match preparations to speak to FIFA.com about the upcoming final and their dreams of glory in the Far East.
"We're going to win the final"
In recent years, Vicente Sánchez has been a key figure in Toluca's success. Quick, intelligent and clinical, the Uruguayan winger is a throwback from a bygone age of wide men, of which all too few remain. With Uruguay failing to make it through to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, the Red Devils' number 11 knows that his best chance of making his name on the world stage lies with beating América in the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final.
"It's going to be great, a really good game. We're really pleased to be in the final and we expect to win," enthused the flying winger, a veteran of Toluca's 2002 CONCACAF Champions Cup-winning side. During the course of an incredible campaign, the Red Devils trounced América 4-0 away in the mythical Estadio Azteca to overturn a 3-goal first-leg deficit. Given the fierce rivalry between the two sides, Sánchez is fully aware of just how much a win for Toluca would mean: "(Playing against them) gives the game that something extra. We know just how important this is, besides which there's the extra incentive of the upcoming Club World Cup."
Drawing first blood
Having been brought to Toluca by América Gallego back in June 2005, Rodrigo El Rengo Díaz enjoyed a dream start to his Mexican career, helping his new side take the league title in his very first season. The next challenge for the Argentine creative midfielder is to take the next step and drive his side to CONCACAF glory.
A veteran of many a two-legged tie, Díaz believes that the key to victory lies in a solid first-leg performance. "It's an honour to have got this far. América are a difficult opponent, but we must take advantage of playing the first game at home. We need to build up a decent lead in front of our home fans and then play an intelligent game over in the Azteca."
In recent years, many Mexican sides have paid the price for putting the domestic league ahead of the CONCACAF trophy. This Toluca side have clearly taken a different approach, which Díaz believes is behind the Red Devils' current success. "We have given this tournament the respect it deserves right from the first game. It's a big trophy, and if we win, we get to play in a very prestigious tournament in Japan."
The Argentine schemer knows just how much a win over América would mean to the fans, and is fully confident in his side's ability to get the job done: "América are a great team. We've got the greatest respect for their players, but we're only concerned with our own performance out on the pitch. If we perform as we know we can then victory will be ours."