Club America's appearance at the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006 will cap a highly significant year for Mexican football.
At club level, two of its sides currently find themselves in the last four of the coveted Copa Sudamericana, while the country's long-term prospects look set to benefit from the recent exodus of players to some of the world's top leagues.
America, for their part, will also be doing Mexico proud for when they take on the cream of club football in the Far East this December. As well as a core of seasoned professionals, the Mexico City outfit will also have two of the country's finest young prospects in their ranks: goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and defender Jose Antonio 'El Gringo' Castro, both outstanding products of the club's youth academy.
Having been members of Ricardo La Volpe's Mexico squad at this summer's FIFA World Cup™ in Germany, Ochoa and Castro are not lacking in big-tournament experience. Now, as they prepare for the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup, both admit that over and above the opportunity to help America claim a prestigious title, Japan 2006 will be an excellent chance to put themselves in the international shop window.
"I believe that all my team-mates, from the most experienced to the youngest, will have that in the back of their minds," says the club's first-choice keeper Ochoa. "You always hope and dream that one day you'll play in Europe, in one of the world's top leagues.
"This tournament will be a great opportunity to showcase our skills, as all the world will be watching. Performing well against the big clubs could convince those very teams to believe in you and try to secure your services."
For the 21-year-old keeper, it is vital that this chance to shine does not pass him by: "This is one of those major tournaments that everyone watches, which is why you have to play a leading part. For any club it's important to win tournaments of this magnitude. Here at America, we're taught from an early age the importance of trying to win every competition we enter, and this will certainly be no exception."
Despite still being relatively young, Ochoa's experience at Germany 2006 will give him a good indication of what to expect against such powerful sides as Spain's FC Barcelona and Internacional of Brasil. "When you walk out on the pitch, you need to bring with you everything you've seen and learnt: things like how to manage the game and its pressure situations, and how to deal with the intensity that matches like these must be played at," he says.
'A great chance to be seen'
Jose Antonio Castro echoes his team-mate's sentiments, insisting that the FIFA Club World Cup is one of the best opportunities to make a name for oneself on the international stage.
"We're obliged to try and win everything we participate in, and we've learned to live with that pressure," said the 26-year-old. "At a personal level, it's also important to show that you can play to a certain level and are capable of performing in any league in the world."
As a right-back, Castro is tough in the tackle, yet quick to break from deep, qualities that could well appeal to attack-minded European outfits. "Of course it's a great chance to be seen," admits El Gringo. "We all dream of getting the opportunity to play in Europe. This benefits more than just the player concerned, as we've seen here. It starts a kind of chain reaction: one player goes, another follows, and then another - it's good for Mexican football."
With both Castro and Ochoa key players for The Eagles, the pair's added motivation to do well in Japan can only help the club in their quest for glory next month.