Mexican football earned a reputation boost at the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup in 2000. Only a last-gasp Dwight Yorke equaliser denied Necaxa an opening victory over a Manchester United side also comprising Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, but Los Rayos nonetheless pipped the Red Devils to second place in Group B and a third-place play-off against Real Madrid, which, against similarly sizeable odds, they won on penalties.
However, though sides from Costa Rica, Congo DR, Japan and Korea Republic have finished on the podium thereafter, not one from the supposedly more prestigious fields of Mexico has – despite the North American nation being represented at every edition of the tournament since 2006.
Monterrey are determined to arrest that statistic. And according to their captain Luis Perez, who helped Necaxa seize bronze in 2000, earning the plaudits for an industrious display against United and converting his spot-kick in the shoot-out reverse of Real, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s experienced side are capable of beating not just the teams from Japan, Qatar, New Zealand and Tunisia, but also Spanish colossuses Barcelona and Brazilian giants Santos.
“We have the desire, because we know we have the team and the ability to compete against anyone and win,” stated the 30-year-old midfielder. “We are preparing 100 per cent. We know the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and we’re working on not committing them again.”
Monterrey have to wait until 8 December, when Auckland City take on the still-to-be-determined J.League winners, to discover who they will meet in the quarter-finals three days later. And while Perez believes it would be an advantage to know the identity of their opponents now, he believes either side would present a challenge for the CONCACAF Champions League holders.
“I think it would be a good thing to know beforehand, to see how they play, who are their key players and things like that,” said the man who has been capped 67 times by Mexico since 1998. “But we know that [both] teams will be very competitive, and that we’ll have to work hard to overcome either of them.”
Monterrey finished with the best record in the group stage of the 2010/11 CONCACAF Champions League, before eliminating compatriots Toluca and Cruz Azul to reach the final. There, despite drawing 2-2 at home to Real Salt Lake in the first leg, Sergio Santana set up David Suazo for the only goal in Utah to earn Los Rayados a 3-2 aggregate victory, the continental crown and a place at Japan 2011.