Monterrey edge Esperance, finish fifth
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Monterrey have claimed victory in the fifth-place play-off at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 after coming from behind to secure a deserved 3-2 win over Esperance.

The Mexicans emerged as the more accomplished of these two continental champions at the Toyota Stadium. Goals from Hiram Mier, Aldo De Nigris and Jesus Zavala saw them prevail after falling behind to a Yannick Ndjeng opener. Esperance hit back in the closing stages through a Khaled Mouelhi penalty but were generally second-best over the course of the match.

Already despondent following their quarter-final defeat to Kashiwa Reysol, Monterrey had been dealt a significant pre-match blow with the news that Humberto Suazo, their star Chilean striker, had been unable to recover from an injury sustained against the J.League champions. Suazo’s attacking verve was undoubtedly missed during a low-key opening to the match, although it was the Mexicans who were first to take an erstwhile uninspiring game by the scruff of the neck.

The combination play between left-winger Walter Ayovi and striker De Nigris was quickly emerging as Monterrey’s most likely source of a goal, with the attacking duo combining twice in as many minutes around the midway point of the first half. On both occasions, Ayovi found space on the left to deliver inch-perfect crosses, but each was reciprocated by an unconvincing finish from De Nigris, for whom a header and delicate flick both failed to find the target. Ayovi continued to rampage down the left, however, and after another of his crosses was diverted to the edge of the box, left-back Darvin Chavez rifled in a powerful low shot that squirmed through the grasp of keeper Moez Ben Cherifa before being scrambled to safety.

It was against this backdrop of Monterrey pressure that Esperance took a shock 31st-minute lead. The goal was a product of classic route one football, with Yannick Ndjeng chasing down a long punt forward from Oualid Hichri, outmuscling the Monterrey centre-halves and then drilling a terrific right-foot finish high into the net from 12 yards.

Monterrey, who had also dominated the early stages of their match against Kashiwa, must have wondered if history was about to repeat itself. It was to their credit, however, that they refused to feel sorry for themselves, and their reward came in the shape of an equaliser just eight minutes later. This goal was a testament to the value of perseverance, with Victor Vucetich’s side finding the net at the third time of asking after causing havoc in the Esperance defence with a quickly taken corner. First to meet it was Jose Maria Basanta, but it was only after his initial effort had been saved, and Sergio Santana had headed the rebound against the bar, that Mier stepped forward to expertly volley into the bottom left-hand corner.

Having been a goal down, Monterrey would likely have been content to go into half-time with parity having been restored. As it was, they returned to the dressing rooms a goal to the good. Ben Cherifia was beaten for a second time just a minute before the interval, Aldo De Nigris drifting away from his marker to head powerfully home at the near post after Esperance were again caught napping by a Neri Cardozo corner.

Within two minutes of the restart, the game looked to be as good as over as the Mexicans doubled their lead. For a third time, it was the Tunisians’ failure to deal with a cross that proved their undoing, with De Nigris heading Mier’s looping centre back across goal for the on-rushing Jesus Navala to bullet home from just inside the six-yard box.

With Monterrey now two goals up and still enjoying the best of the play, it was difficult to envisage a way back into the game for Esperance. However, they were given a glimmer of hope after 75 minutes when Mier, having scored one and helped set up another, brought down Youssef Msakni to concede a penalty. Khaled Mouelhi coolly converted, sending Jonathan Orozco the wrong way, and that sparked new life into the African champions, who surged forward in search of an equaliser.

They very nearly got one too with eight minutes remaining, when only a desperate goal-line clearance from Sergio Perez prevented Mouelhi from claiming his second and Esperance’s third after Monterrey had made an almighty mess of clearing from inside their own six-yard box. That, however, was as close as the Tunisians would come to preventing a Monterrey win that allows the Mexicans to head for home with pride at least partially restored.