Wednesday’s match for fifth place at Japan 2011 went the way of Mexico’s Monterrey, who ensured Tunisia’s Esperance would end the tournament as they started it: on the wrong end of a frustrating one-goal defeat.
It was a case of history repeating itself for the north Africans, who had gone into their opening match against Al-Sadd full of enthusiasm only to pay dearly for a lack of concentration. Yesterday, the same problem reared its ugly head.
Though he will no doubt have plenty to say to his players on the long trip back to Tunis, Taraji coach Nabil Maaloul took an objective view of things in the wake of their second reverse in four days. “Compared to the other teams here I really feel we lack experience,” he said. “We need to play more international games at this level if we’re going to develop as a unit.”
Frustrated by the inability of his rearguard to keep things tight, Maaloul could at least take satisfaction from the superb all-round display of his Cameroonian striker Yannick N’Djeng, who was at the heart of all Les Sang et Or’s best moves, putting his side ahead with an accomplished finish and showing plenty of commitment and skill on the ball.
Yet despite his fine display, N’Djeng pulled no punches when he spoke to FIFA.com afterwards. “We were guilty of some bad lapses of concentration,” N'Djeng lamented.
“What does not kill me makes me stronger,” added the promising 21-year-old, taking a philosophical stance on Esperance’s maiden appearance in the competition. “The average age of the side is very young and we’ve learned an awful lot from these two defeats. It’s at tough times like these that we need to feel the support of the fans, not when things are going well.”
The other side of the coin
There was an altogether different mood in the Monterrey camp after they had gone some way to atoning for their penalty shoot-out loss to Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol in the quarter-finals.
Happy to be heading home on a positive note, Monterrey coach Victor Vucetich expressed delight at his side’s improved showing against the Africans: “We came up against a very good team and this win shows that CONCACAF football is developing well.”
Rayados frontman Aldo de Nigris, who scored just before half-time to give them a 2-1 lead, took satisfaction from the fact they had gone unbeaten in normal time in their two matches. “It’s a very special feeling to be going home with a win and a draw to our name The onus was on us to bid a proper farewell to the competition. This is a World Cup after all.”
De Nigris admitted to finding it hard to focus on the game at first. “It was a struggle for us to concentrate knowing that the semi-final with Santos would be coming up straight after our game was over. Missing out on the party was very frustrating.”
That party is set to continue until Sunday, without the departing Tunisians and Mexicans. Having had a taste of the biggest competition in global club football, they will need little motivating when it comes to defending their respective continental titles next year and fighting for the chance to return to Japan.