For Pachuca, the time for talking is over. Mexico's most successful side in recent years are all set to take on Tunisia's Etoile Sportive du Sahel for a place in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007.

Much has been made of the team's dip in form in recent months, in particular after the departure of stalwart Colombian defender Aquivaldo Mosquera to Spanish side Sevilla. Indeed, the team's most recent practice game in Japan, a 4-2 defeat against local side JEF United Chiba, has only added to the speculation. Now, though, with just hours to go before his side's debut in the Far East, Pachuca coach Enrique Meza is anxious to dispel any doubts.

"We're clearly improving and we showed that [against JEF]. And while the result was not very good, I'll settle for our first-half performance," the coach said.

But what of the team's recent form back home?

"There's nothing to be gained by looking back. OK, so we may not have been at our best, but you have to remember these guys have played 90 games in 16 months. Now, however, we're rested and performing well."

Facing Pachuca on Sunday will be African champions Etoile, who upset the odds by defeating Egyptian powerhouses Al Ahly in their continental final. For that reason, the Tunisians have Meza's utmost respect: "We know we're going up against the African champions, so we've been studying them carefully. They're a fast and fearless side who will doubtless cause us a few problems. But we have enormous potential as well, and we believe in our chances of making the next round."

Captain's comeback
At 36, the Colombian Miguel Calero is still a reassuring presence as Pachuca's last line of defence. Agile, reliable and spectacular, the goalkeeper has just been passed fit after two months out and is hoping to pick up where he left off.

"My shoulder injury (brought about by deep-vein thrombosis) has healed fully and I hope to prove that on the field on Sunday. If we win, it will be the first step on the road to the biggest title of our careers," the lanky net minder said.

Calero is only too aware that his international reputation, and that of his team-mates, will be on the line come Sunday. Also at stake are the hopes and dreams of countless fans back home in Mexico, who will be willing the Tuzos on. "We lost our last friendly," says the goalkeeper, "but what really mattered was getting used to the weather, the time difference and the ball. We have a commitment to ourselves, to our brand of football, to Pachuca and to Mexican football. We're representing the entire county at world level, and we hope to perform to the best of our abilities and go further than Mexican teams have gone in the past."

Meza, for his part, spoke of how important it was for the team to have their captain back: "Miguel is not just a great person, he's also a wonderful athlete who commands the respect and affection of the entire squad. Without question, his presence will be fundamental to our progress in the competition."

And while the tournament has never been won by a Mexican team, if Pachuca are capable of winning a South American title (the 2006 Copa Sudamericana), they have every right to dream of taking the trophy home with them on 16 December.

Of course, the question remains whether they can do that given their inconsistent form of late, but Calero, at least, has no doubt: "For sure we can do it, but we'll have to fight for it with professionalism and humility. We've already shown we're a powerful side, now it's time to show why we're among the top seven sides in the world."