A well-oiled trophy-winning machine, Boca Juniors have become the flagship of South American club football, as their recent record in the Intercontinental Cup shows. The Xeneizes travelled to Japan in 2000, 2001 and 2003, winning twice with squads featuring some of the names who will be on show in next month's FIFA Club World Cup.
Bolstering Boca's Far East bid on this occasion, however, will be some new faces, including talented twosome Rodrigo Palacio and Pablo Ledesma, both of them successful signings who have won over the ever-demanding Azul y Oro fans.
Just weeks away from embarking on a whole new experience on the other side of the world, the duo spoke to FIFA.com about the many things they have in common: youthful exuberance, the backing of the Bombonera faithful and the challenge of stocking an already bulging trophy cabinet with yet more silverware.
Born in February 25 and 23 years ago respectively, Rodrigo Palacio and Pablo Ledesma started out with unfashionable clubs before leaping to national prominence in the colours of Boca Juniors. Palacio is a speedy attacking foil for main striker Martin Palermo, while the Cordoba-born Ledesma is a hard-running wide midfielder with a powerful shot and a capacity for arriving in the box to score crucial goals, as he showed in the recent Copa Libertadores final against Gremio of Brazil.
"Being here is like a dream," says the younger of the two. "When I was little I used to dream about playing in the first division but I never even imagined running out for Boca let alone winning so many trophies and having the chance to go to Japan. It's something I didn't even dare think about. If you'd told me that five years ago, I would have said you were mad."Palacio, who broke his way into the Argentina side that travelled to Germany 2006, is not one to disagree with his team-mate. "Boca is so different to any other club. I've been lucky enough to play at every level in Argentinian football, every age category, and I can tell you there's a big difference to the rest. The responsibility that comes with playing here doesn't scare me, though. I love it in fact."
Both are permanent fixtures in the team that is
currently lying second in the 2007 Apertura championship, notching
nine goals between them so far, all of which bodes well for next
month's date with destiny. "Everybody wants to play in the
Club World Cup," says Ledesma, who like Palacios has also had
a taste of international duty. "I see it as an objective, a
dream opportunity. Although we've got the end of the Apertura
coming up, for me a final in Japan would be the biggest game of my
life. We're all excited about it, but we need to keep our heads
if we're going to make the most of an occasion that we might
never have the chance to enjoy again."
Ledesma made his debut for the Buenos Aires giants in December 2003, a matter of days before his more experienced colleagues overcame AC Milan in the Intercontinental Cup in Yokohama. Four years on, and with some of the veterans of that game by his side, he will have his own chance to go for glory in Japan, a prospect he is clearly savouring. "I haven't got round to asking them what it's all about yet, although I hope to experience exactly what they did so I can tell others about it one day."
Palacio's Xeneize debut came some fifteen months after Boca's penalty shootout defeat of the mighty Milan, which perhaps explains why he is even more excited about the possibility of lining up against Carlo Ancelotti's men in the final. "It's weird just thinking about it. You always see them on the TV and you think 'Wow, what a team they've got'. And now, all being well, we could be facing them in the final. It would be a great occasion, something unforgettable. I just hope we win so we can go down in history."
"I want to win the title. A final against Milan would be the game of my life," concludes the 23-year-old, his desire to pen a glorious new page in the history of the club shared by his older team-mate. "As soon as I step off the plane in Japan I'm going to get goose bumps. Winning there is what every footballer dreams about."
With such burning ambition driving them on, Ledesma and Palacio could well have something else in common before too long: a FIFA Club World Cup winners medal.