“It’s a massive disappointment and hard to explain. I guess this kind of thing happens in football.” The words are those of Chilean striker Humberto Suazo, and they capture perfectly the regret with which Monterrey bowed out of their maiden FIFA Club World Cup less than a year ago. The Mexican side had gone into Japan 2011 with great expectations, only to lose on penalties to local side Kashiwa Reysol in their first game.
However, Victor Manuel Vucetich’s outfit, who began a golden era with the 2003 Clausura league title and followed it with Apertura wins in 2009 and 2010, quickly put the frustration of last year’s fifth-place finish in Japan behind them. Having retained their CONCACAF Champions League, Los Rayados will be hoping to draw on last year’s lessons and experience to improve their performance this time around.
In contrast to other title contenders, such as Corinthians and debutants Chelsea, Monterrey have a marked advantage in knowing what to expect in December. Vucetich’s side are not only familiar with the competition’s environment and vicissitudes, but they will line up with the same nucleus of players as 2011 in their quest to make amends and restore Mexican pride. As for the team itself, the leadership of Suazo up front will again be vital, with the Chilean widely regarded as the most influential player in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
“Last year we had a good experience but now we need to capitalise on what we learned in Japan,” said Vucetich after his side secured their passage to December’s showpiece. "I believe we can come into the tournament in better shape and aim to do things differently."
The coach, whose management style places great store on player confidence and dressing-room harmony, was in defiant mood when asked about his side’s chances of becoming only the second CONCACAF team to secure a podium finish (after Nexaca in 2000). “We have a strong team, a winning mentality and a thirst for revenge,” he said.
Facts and figures
Francisco Javier Cruz (1984-88, 1999), Mario Mota “Bahia” (1984-88) Misael Espinoza (1984-93), Jesus Arellano (1992-11), Antonio de Nigris (1995-02), Guillermo Franco (2002-05), Luis Ernesto Perez (2003-2012), Humberto Suazo (2007-2009 / 2010-to date).
Aldo de Nigris (forward), Humberto Suazo (forward), Cesar Delgado (forward), Walter Ayovi (defender), Jonathan Orozco (goalkeeper).
Unlike in 2011, Monterrey did not have the best group-stage record in this year’s Champions League. With 12 points from a possible 18, courtesy of four wins and two defeats, Los Rayados still topped their section ahead of Seattle Sounders, Comunicaciones and Herediano. From the quarter-finals on, they faced only Mexican opposition: Monarcas Morelia, who they downed 7-2 on aggregate in the last eight, Pumas UNAM (4-1 in the semis) and finally Santos Laguna.
In the decider, Monterrey’s 2-0 first-leg win meant they could afford to lose the return fixture 2-1 and still retain their regional crown. The all-important goal in the second leg came from none other than Neri Cardozo, who got his first taste of FIFA Club World Cup action back in 2007 with Boca Juniors.
The numbers game
12 - The number of finals won by Vucetich with the various Mexican clubs he has managed. The veteran tactician, who has lost only one title-decider at national level – against Santos Laguna in the 2012 Clausura – has won his 12 titles with seven different teams, while five of those have come with Monterrey.
|23||Juan de Dios IBARRA|
|15||Jose Maria BASANTA|
|9||Aldo DE NIGRIS|