America and Toluca are gearing up for the biggest game of their respective seasons. Ninety minutes, or perhaps a little more, is all that separates them from the coveted CONCACAF Champions' Cup trophy and a sought-after ticket to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup.
The magnificent Azteca Stadium provides the setting for what has virtually become a one-off final following a goalless draw in the first leg in Toluca seven days ago.
Hope springs eternal for America
What a difference a week makes. America's prospects for the two-legged final did not look particularly rosy following an alarming 3-1 reverse in the derby against Pumas, a poor performance that put their chances of reaching the final phase of the Mexican championship in severe jeopardy.
Nevertheless, it has taken Los Azulcremas a mere two games to turn their season around, the first of them coming last Wednesday in the away leg of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup final. Inspired by the return of star man Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the Aguilas dominated proceedings against Toluca and although they failed to score, it was a case of confidence restored following a much-improved showing.
America confirmed their mini-revival last weekend when they came back from a goal down to defeat Cruz Azul 3-1 in their second Mexico City derby in a week, a result that reawakened their flagging league title hopes.
The architect of the Eagles' comeback was none other than striker Aaron Padilla. Less heralded than the likes of Blanco, Kleber or Claudio 'El Piojo' Lopez, the number 27 has a happy knack of producing the goods when required. It was his second-half brace that turned the game against Cruz Azul to put his side on course for a much-needed victory.
The in-form Padilla now has his eyes on a repeat performance in the crucial second leg against Toluca: "I just did my job, that's all. As I always say, you've got to be ready when you coach needs you."
Seen by many as a talisman for his ability to come off the bench and change the course of a game, the modest goalscorer is taking nothing for granted in the return leg: "I always give my all out on the pitch. I was fortunate enough to score and that was great, but not all games are the same."
Toluca out to spring a surprise
Their opponents Los Diablos Rojos will be hoping to make up the ground they lost in last week's first leg by emerging victorious from the legendary Azteca, something they have proved quite capable of in the past in this tournament. Back in 2002, in a semi-final clash against the same opponents, they somehow managed to overturn a 4-1 deficit to steal a place in the final.
Although on a five-match unbeaten run, Toluca have picked up four consecutive draws and will need to kick that habit if they are to make the trip to Japan in September. "We know we have to go to the Azteca and get a result, and we're confident of doing just that," commented the team's Argentine goalkeeper Hernan Cristante.
Hopes are high in the Toluca camp of a famous victory and the squad certainly looks relaxed and focused ahead of Wednesday's showdown. The narrow 1-0 defeat they suffered two months ago at the same venue and against the same opponents provides a valuable pointer for the decisive second leg. Make no mistake, though, it is a result Toluca will be out to avenge when tomorrow comes.