After pulling off a two-goal comeback against Al Ahly, Pachuca were unable to repeat the feat against Liga de Quito. Can the Mexicans now lift themselves for the match for third place?
Miracles rarely occur twice, let alone in a single week. Just ask CONCACAF champions Pachuca, who conceded twice in the opening 25 minutes of Wednesday's semi-final against Liga de Quito, but failed to reprise the stunning comeback they produced against Al Ahly just four days earlier.
Pachuca's Argentinian midfielder Damian Alvarez, their two-goal hero last Saturday, was at a loss to explain their second false start in a matter of days. "It was all a bit of a blur and somehow we found ourselves two down before we'd even got going."
The Copa Libertadores champions proved far less accommodating than the Egyptians, however, and prevented Pachuca from getting back into the game.
"We played the way we wanted to in the second half and we came pretty close to scoring in the end," commented Los Tuzos' Colombian goalkeeper Miguel Calero. "The Ecuadorians defended really well and we lacked the patience we needed to take our chances."
Pachuca coach Enrique Meza concurred. "Liga deserved to win. They played better and were more organised. All our hard work and came to nothing and we didn't make the most of the possession we had."
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps the Mexican contingent refused to fall back on excuses for the defeat, with Meza showing some admirable sincerity. "I don't think we can put the loss down to the system we used or mental tiredness. We just made some mistakes and that's it. That's why we lost. We reacted in the second half but the damage was already done."
Paraguayan defender Julio Manzur offered a similarly frank assessment. "We didn't have the skill to put the ball in the back of the net. The rain made the pitch very slick and we made a lot of mistakes because of that. We controlled possession most of the time but we couldn't finish the job off."
His team-mate Alvarez identified another factor in Pachuca's disappointing performance. "I honestly believe we lacked the mental strength to come back like we did against Al Ahly. Liga are a hard-working team too and they defend very well."
One man who could barely conceal his disappointment was Argentinian striker Bruno Marioni, who saw his dream of lifting the trophy evaporate. "Last year we lost our opening game but this time we managed to make the semi-finals. It's still a big let-down for us, though. We wanted to make the final but things didn't turn out the way we expected."
Having almost come to terms with defeat, Meza and his men are slowly turning their thoughts to the match for third place and are vowing to give it their full attention. "We want to put everything into the match for third place," assured the coach. "We're going to try and get the players motivated again and get their minds back on the job. We've got a few days now to sort things out."
"You get over the disappointment quickly enough," added Manzur. "We need to rest now and try and play the last game with the same spirit. It's an important match for us and it gives us a chance to go home on a high."
Defender Paul Aguilar is taking Sunday's game just as seriously. "Of course the match for third place counts. We'll be going all out to get a place on the podium and we'll be spending the next three days ironing out mistakes and getting ourselves ready."
While dejected his side will not be contesting the big final, Alvarez is not going to spurn the opportunity to finish the tournament as the third best club in the world. "The sense of motivation won't be the same but we are professionals. We'll put this defeat behind us quickly and finish in style by winning our last match."
"We have to keep our focus and not lose our way. We need to concentrate on Sunday's game," agreed Calero, before underlining Los Tuzos' achievement in getting so far in the first place. "There's no doubt we've had a much better tournament than in 2007. We've played some quality football and I think we have acquitted ourselves well." And if the Mexicans can earn a place on the podium come Sunday, then their stock will rise even further.