The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final is drawing ever closer, and it will not be long before the identity of the region's representatives at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 is confirmed. The honour last year went to big-spending America, while another Mexican side are sure to take the spoils this time around.
For the second year in succession, teams from Mexico have completely overwhelmed their rivals in CONCACAF's biggest club competition, Chivas and Pachuca following on where 2006 finalists America and Toluca left off. The first leg of the eagerly anticipated Final is set for this Wednesday 17 April in Guadalajara's Estadio Jalisco.
In 2006, Mexico's most popular club Chivas Guadalajara celebrated their 100th birthday in style, ending a trophy drought lasting nearly a decade by capturing the Torneo Apertura crown. Since that day, players, club directors and supporters of the Rebaño Sagrado (Sacred Flock) have turned their attention to a new objective: bagging the regional crown before mounting a world title challenge in Japan.
With that aim in mind, coach Jose Manuel de la Torre has an abundance of talented players at his disposal. The Rojiblancos - who edged US side DC United 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-final round of the Champions Cup - boast a number of players in the Mexican national team set-up spanning various age categories, while senior Tricolor coach Hugo Sanchez used seven Chivas men in the team's last game against Venezuela.
Included among that number are Chivas' formidable attacking trident of Omar Bravo, Alberto Medina and Adolfo Bautista, who have scored more than 80 percent of the team's goals over the last year. However, the Rebaño will have to do without the services of volatile genius El Bofo Bautista, a thigh injury keeping him out of the first leg.
The Guadalajara-based outfit will be able to count on Gonzalo Pineda and Ramon Morales, members of the Mexico squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. "We all know that a win would take us that bit closer to the Club World Cup," said Morales, when asked about the importance of Wednesday's first-leg clash. "Chivas are always expected to win every final we play, but we're up against a very good footballing side. We've got what it takes to secure a good win and set ourselves up well for the return match," added the midfield man.
Crashing the CONMEBOL party
While Chivas can lay claim to being the reigning Mexican Apertura champions, their final opponents also enjoyed a 2006 to savour. Not satisfied with clinching the domestic Torneo Clausura, Pachuca went on to become the first club team to win a competition organised by another confederation, edging Chilean powerhouses Colo Colo in Final of the 2006 Copa Sudamericana.
Pachuca, hailing from the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, are the oldest side in the country. Los Tuzos boast quality running throughout the spine of the team, from the imposing figure of Colombian keeper Miguel Calero to livewire frontman Cristian Gimenez, and will feel themselves more than worthy of a place at football's top table. Their class was clearly in evidence when they came from behind to beat USA champions Houston Dynamo on a slim 5-4 aggregate in the semi-final series.
Adding further spice to an already tantalising showdown, both teams go into the game in excellent form. Pachuca are the current leaders of the Clausura 2007 with 33 points, just five clear of closest challengers Chivas. As such, there can be little doubt that the continental title will be contested by Mexico's finest two sides, both of whom would surely fly the Tricolor flag high and proud come December's showpiece event in Japan.