Pachuca's 4-2 defeat of Al Ahly in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 proved to be an emotional occasion for the CONCACAF champions. Appearing in the competition for the second year running, Los Tuzos made up for the disappointment of losing out to Tunisian outfit Etoile Sportive du Sahel in the last eight a year ago. But having finally cleared that hurdle, the Mexicans are now aiming to go all the way.
The architects of the long-awaited win over the Egyptians were none other than the formidable Argentinian trident formed by Damian Alvarez, Bruno Marioni and Christian Gimenez, who chipped in with a vital double. Fresh from their Tokyo triumph, Marioni and Gimenez spoke to FIFA.com about Pachuca's tournament chances.
A match to remember
What made Saturday's win all the more memorable for Los Tuzos was the fact that they battled back from a 2-0 half-time deficit. "We had an immense feeling of satisfaction when the final whistle went," explains two-goal hero Gimenez. "We had something to prove after being knocked out last year, and winning this match, coming back the way we did to reach the semis, was pretty amazing. It's not been an easy year but this win has really boosted our confidence for what lies ahead and has got us thinking positively."
Seasoned striker Marioni is about to end his short stint with Pachuca and is delighted to have the chance to go out on a high note. "It was a really important win for the team," comments the much-travelled forward, who is hoping to mark his imminent departure to domestic rivals Atlas with a goal or two. "Personally I'd love to win here and leave the club in the best possible way. I always aim to score in every game, and hopefully I'll have a bit of luck against Liga and be able to help out my team-mates."
Next up: Liga de Quito
Having laid the ghost of last year's untimely exit to rest, the Mexicans are now focusing their attention on semi-final opponents Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions. It is a meeting midfielder Gimenez is looking forward to.
"Everything is new for us from now on. The first game was important because it allowed us to get over our nerves, but things will be different against Liga. Our aim is to beat everyone and win the title and we are all dreaming about reaching the final."
His compatriot Marioni is wary of the threat the Ecuadorians pose. "Liga are formidable rivals and to give ourselves a chance of winning, we have to try and repeat what we did in the second half of our opening match."
It is a view shared by Gimenez. "Liga have lost two of their most important players in (Enrique) Vera and (Joffre) Guerron, but they are still a very compact unit. They've held on to the core of the team that won the Copa Libertadores and this is bound to be a very tough game for us."
Wednesday's meeting could see Gimenez equal or surpass the record for the number of goals scored in a FIFA Club World Cup, one that is currently shared by players of the calibre of Romario, Nicolas Anelka, Mohamed Aboutrika and Washington.
"I'm not someone who goes out looking for goals," he says. "If things go well and I manage to score, than all well and good for the team, but my mission out on the pitch is to help the men up front: Bruno, (Jaime) Correa and Alvarez."
After battling for 120 minutes against the Egyptians, the Pachuca players could be excused for feeling a little tired. As far as Marioni is concerned, however, that stirring comeback can only be good for morale.
"I don't know if tiredness is going to affect us. We are really up for this and we'll be trying to keep control of the ball so that they are the ones who have to do all the running."
Aside from tactics, Marioni reveals another area where Pachuca might have an advantage. "We'll be thinking about all the people who are behind us, about all the fans back in Mexico. I'm sure they can give us another boost, just like they did in the quarter-finals."
The record books reveal that South American sides have the edge when it comes to meetings between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF representatives. And if Pachuca are unable to reverse the trend this week, then it will not be for want of trying.