For a great many years, the Mexican game's traditional big four of America, Chivas, Cruz Azul and Pumas revelled in the support of the majority of their country's football fans, and jealously harvested the lion's share of domestic honours. However, over the last decade another club has shown it has the necessary credentials to join that elite group: CF Pachuca.
The last couple of seasons have been particularly bountiful for the Tuzos, the oldest club in Mexico. First they won the 2006 Clausura Tournament, their fourth league title in seven years. Then they surprised their South American counterparts by claiming the Copa Sudamericana that same year, in the process becoming the first club to win a continental tournament outside their own confederation. This season they were again on the winner's podium after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chivas of Guadalajara secured them the CONCACAF Champions Cup and a place at this year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
The club's phenomenal recent success has been the product of outstanding performances on the pitch and meticulous planning off it. In this regard, considerable credit must go to the board of directors headed by Jesus Martinez and the tireless efforts of coach Enrique Meza and his staff. Then, of course, there has been the performance of the players, particularly those making up the backbone of the side. The Colombian Miguel Calero has been fiercely resolute in goal, as has his compatriot Aquivaldo Mosquera in the centre of defence. Gabriel Caballero and Andres Chitiva have brought class and character to the midfield and Cristian Gimenez and Luis Angel Landin have been capping it all with their ruthless finishing up front.
The road to Japan
Although Pachuca have become adept at winning titles of late, their recent CONCACAF Champions Cup triumph and qualification for Japan 2007 was anything but straightforward. On more than one occasion, the Hidalgo side looked down and out, but when they needed it most the quality within their ranks and vast experience carried them through.
Things began smoothly enough when the Blanquiazules (Blue-and-Whites) came up against Guatemala's Deportivo Marquense in their opening game last February. With an efficient if unspectacular display, Meza's charges comfortably went though after winning 2-0 in Pachuca and 1-0 in San Marcos, Guatemala. Victory took the Mexican side into the semi-finals, where they would face considerably tougher opposition in the USA's Houston Dynamos.
Travelling to Texas for the first leg, Pachuca were run ragged and came home nursing a 2-0 defeat. Progressing looked a tall order when they kicked off the return leg at the Estadio Hidalgo in early April, but two goals in the opening 20 minutes put the tie level on aggregate. Undaunted, the Dynamos kept pressing and twice reduced the deficit to one goal on the night, first making it 2-1 and later 3-2. With the seconds ticking away and the home side staring elimination in the face, up popped veteran midfielder Caballero to send the tie into extra time. Argentinian hitman Gimenez then finished the job with his third of the evening to seal a 5-2 win (5-4 on aggregate) and a place in final.
The decider was an all-Mexican affair and pitted the Tuzos against the powerful Chivas of Guadalajara. There was nothing to separate the sides in the first leg in Jalisco, where Pachuca came from behind to earn a well-deserved 2-2 draw. Back in Pachuca for the return leg, neither side could break the deadlock (0-0), and the game went to extra time and then penalties. After six successful spot kicks from each side, Alberto Medina missed for Guadalajara, Luis Angel Landin scored, and Pachuca were continental champions and on their way to Japan.
Success breeding success
From Calero to Chaco
Unlike with many top sides, it is difficult to single out one player at Pachuca who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Indeed, one of their hallmarks is the ability to stay faithful to their system regardless of who lines up on the day.
That said, some of the biggest names in Mexican football have played for the Tuzos down the years, and no discussion on the club's achievements would be complete without referring to some of the pillars of the side who have helped write its wonderful recent history.
One such figure is the imposing goalkeeper Miguel Calero, who has been a regular with the Colombia national team and one of the best keepers on the continent over the last five years. Ably assisting Calero in defence is his compatriot Aquivaldo Mosquera, whose unyielding physical presence forms the backbone of the Pachuca rearguard.
In a midfield packed with quality, it is impossible to single out just one player. Gabriel Caballero, who played for Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, is the one who dictates the tempo, while Colombian wide man Andres Chitiva gives them penetration and pace. Putting the steel into midfield is Jaime Correa, who is frequently assisted by the gifted youngster Carlos Rodriguez.
Up front, former Boca Juniors player Cristian Chaco Gimenez has flourished on Hidalgan soil and is the very essence of the Pachuca side. Alongside him, two talented home-grown centre forwards, Luis Landin and Juan Carlos Cacho, battle it out to terrorise opposition defences, while Damian Alvarez has earned a reputation as a very dangerous alternative.
The wisdom of Ojitos
Team coach Enrique Meza is someone well accustomed to winning titles. After helping Morelia and Toros Neza avoid relegation early on his career, his star rose further after delivering three successive league championships to the legendary Toluca side of Jose Saturnino Cardozo. However, a disappointing stint in charge of the Mexican national team and trophyless spells at the helm Cruz Azul and Atlas seemed to indicate that Meza had lost the Midas touch.
In spite of that, Pachuca were happy to put their faith in him and, after a shaky start, Meza delivered the goods. Guiding the team to one league title, one Copa Sudamericana and the CONCACAF Champions Cup in just two seasons, the man known affectionately as Ojitos (Little Eyes) - a moniker from his goalkeeping days at Cruz Azul - has reaffirmed his credentials as a winning coach.
A tactician known to place great emphasis on ball control, Meza also spends a lot of time working on the mental side of the game with his players. A big fan of self-help books, he has used his considerable tactical nous and ability to get the best from his team to achieve results that are the envy of coaches at home and abroad.
A brief history
Despite being the oldest club in Mexico, having been founded back in 1901, it is only in the last decade that Pachuca have finally managed to consolidate their position in the country's top flight. Prior to that, the Hidalgo outfit experienced endless false dawns as promotion after promotion was followed by immediate returns to the second division.
The club's directors, headed by its president Jesus Martinez, put in place long-term plans to secure Pachuca's position among Mexico's elite. Fundamental to the success of this project was the appointment of a gifted young coach by the name of Javier Aguirre. Making up in intelligence for what he lacked in experience, Aguirre went about creating a sporting infrastructure that would become the envy of teams across the continent.
Very soon the club's off-field achievements were being
matched by their title successes. In 2001, the
Tuzos marked their centenary with an International
Footballing Congress, which has subsequently been held on an annual
basis and has featured such footballing luminaries as Pele, Johan
Cruyff, Carlos Bilardo and Arrigo Sacchi.
In a further statement of ambitious intent, Pachuca established a University of Football that same year, the first of its kind in the world, as well as revealing a new state-of-the-art training facility, hotel, commercial centre and television programme.
Thus far the club's grand vision has been matched by equally impressive results. Four league titles in seven years, as well as two CONCACAF Champions Cups and one Copa Sudamericana point to a club now firmly established among Mexico's elite - and one determined to make their mark on world football later this year in Japan.
|11||Juan Carlos CACHO|