In Mexico, to speak of Club America is to speak of passion and polemics. "Americanism is what binds us together, as we know none of the other teams like us," claim fans of the Aguilas (The Eagles), who are right up there with those of the Guadalajara Chivas in terms of popularity.
The club was founded on Columbus Day (16 October, the date the explorer is said to have discovered America) in 1916 and thus decided to adopt the name of their continent. Throughout their long and celebrated history, they have been one of the most successful and popular clubs in Mexico.
Over the years, America have pitted themselves, often successfully, against some of the finest club sides in the world, which is why facing them is always such a challenge. This is especially true for their rivals in Mexico and North/Central America and the Caribbean, where among other things they have won ten Mexican Championships, six Mexican Cups, two Interamerican Cups, five CONCACAF Champion Cups and one CONCACAF Giants Cup. It is no exaggeration to say that the trophy room at the club's Mexico City ground is almost as expansive as its history.
Among the famous names to have spent time at the club are veteran Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker, former Cameroonian international Francois Omam Biyik and ex Zambia player Kalusha Bwalya. Of course, the Eagles have also had their share of Mexican idols, including Hugo Sanchez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The latter, one of the most prolific goalscorers in his homeland, is still playing for the club, where he remains a hugely charismatic figure.
FIFA Club World Cup the priority
This coming December, when the celebrations for America's 90th anniversary will still be ringing in everyone's ears, the famous old club will have the chance to mark the occasion in style when they travel to the Far East as CONCACAF's representative at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006. No one is more determined to see the team rise to the occasion than club president Guillermo Canedo White: "It's a magnificent opportunity for ourselves and our country to reach the heights in front of the watching world. Furthermore, it's a trophy we've never won, and that's something I'd really like to put right."
No one doubts that the team from Mexico City have what it takes to achieve their objective. Known for their financial clout, America are frequently involved in the country's biggest transfers, which explains why they have one of the most powerful squads in Mexico and feel confident about taking on the cream of international football in Japan. "At America, we've always said that to be champions, we have to beat all comers. Therefore, we're prepared to face whoever we have in front of us," Canedo White says with conviction.
This can-do spirit was in evidence last August, when the Eagles met the reigning European champions Barcelona. Though the friendly was more akin to an exhibition game than a real match, the 4-4 final scoreline was a very useful exercise for America's coach Luis Fernando Tena. "In general, things went quite well for us in that game, but we still have a lot to analyse. In football you can visualise a game beforehand, but the reality can be vastly different. We just have to prepare ourselves as best we can so as to be able to take on anyone," Tena insists.
Asked about the strength of his rivals in Japan, the coach replies: "I understand how difficult it is facing such strong sides, but we have an excellent squad. We've had some great signings, and we're making the Club World Cup our priority. We also know it'll be a great opportunity to show how good we are and make a great impression on the world stage."
Driven by success
"America want to be world champions, and they'll do everything in their power to achieve that," says Manuel Lapuente, the club's sporting vice-president. Lapuente's words should not be taken lightly, with his having previously coached America, among other Mexican sides, and also led Mexico to glory at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2003, when they defeated Brazil in the final at the Azteca Stadium.
"We know the whole world will be watching. All the players, young and old, are united in their goal. I've already told them that they have to take the bull by the horns and compete like they've never done before. They have to play freely as well. Football is a game and you have to play it," Lapuente insists.
"It will be a good indicator of what our competitive level is," the vice-president adds. "We've measured ourselves against teams from Brazil and Argentina and found that some of these South American sides are perhaps a shade ahead of us. Yet in spite of that, we've held our own against them, and sometimes beaten them. To date, we still haven't really tested ourselves against the rest of the world, but this will be a great opportunity to do so," he says.
With his parting shot, Lapuente leaves no one in any doubt about the club's ambition: "We're not just going there to test ourselves and see how we get on. I'd rather stay at home than do that. No, we're going there with the aim of winning the trophy."