Sometimes in sport it is not reaching the top that is the hardest thing but staying there. CF Monterrey can vouch for that.
The Mexicans have appeared at every one of the last three FIFA Club World Cups courtesy of their maiden CONCACAF Champions League win in 2011 and two successful defences. There will be no fourth consecutive appearance in the global showpiece for Los Rayados next year, however. Out of the running in the domestic championship race, Monterrey will be unable to defend their Champions League title, leaving the way open for another side to represent the region against the world’s best in 2014.
The end of the Mexican outfit’s golden era came when Raja Casablanca beat them 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013 in Agadir on Saturday, a result that prompted their Argentinian captain Jose Maria Basanta to tell FIFA.com: “Nobody wanted the run to come to an end and we were hoping to achieve even more.
“Sadly for us, things didn’t work out the way we wanted in the Mexican league or in the Cup, and now we’ve kissed goodbye to the Club World Cup. We were hoping to make up for what’s been a tough year, but we’re going away empty-handed.”
The Argentinian skipper has grown accustomed to lifting trophies and shaking the hands of his fellow captains from around the world over the last couple of years. Fifth at Japan 2011 and third at Japan 2012, Monterrey were hoping for even better things in North Africa this time around.
“We’ve fallen well short of our objective,” said the midfielder. “We had a terrific opportunity to go far in this tournament because we did really well last year. We came here with every intention of doing even better and were convinced we could. We came up short, though, and we need to sit down now and find a way of moving on from this.”
In contemplating that task, striker Omar Arellano, who joined the three-time CONCACAF champions from Guadalajara earlier this year, had this to say: “If we want to get past this hurdle, we have to be absolutely convinced we can do it. We’ve got the ability and we’ve got the quality, but we just need that little bit extra, that little bit more intensity. That’s just the way the modern game is. Creating lots of chances and failing to put them away means nothing when your opponent only need to score two goals.”
“Goals win games,” concurred Basanta, who scored his side’s equaliser in Agadir, giving them momentary hope of an extended run in the tournament. “The adventure is over, though you have to remember that it’s tough to stay at the top year after year, which is exactly what we managed to do.”
The first signs that Monterrey’s lengthy purple patch was nearing an end came when Victor Manuel Vucetich, the man who guided them to their Champions League hat-trick, left the club in August, a setback compounded by their failure to reach the Mexican championship play-offs.
Argentinian forward Cesar Delgado, who has played a part in all Monterrey’s recent triumphs, cut a dejected figure as he approached the FIFA.com microphone. “It’s the end of an era, and the time’s come for us to go out and pen another chapter. It’s a sad moment and very hard for us to take. I honestly feel we weren’t far away from getting up there with the big teams.”
For his part Arellano added: “Monterrey have achieved so much on a global level and that’s going to give us all the motivation we need to get back to the top again.”
Looking on the bright side
That sentiment was shared by his team-mates, who looked past their defeat to Raja to a happier future.
“We need to start from scratch and the first step in getting back here is the upcoming league championship,” said their Ecuadorian forward Marlon de Jesus. “That means going out on 4 January with the idea of starting our climb back to the summit. Our aim will be to win the league, qualify for the next Champions League and come back to the Club World Cup the year after that.”
As far as Basanta is concerned, that goal is a realistic one: “There’s every reason to believe in our future. This is a well-organised club with a huge and loyal fanbase, and I’m convinced that the team can turn the situation round and get back up there with the best.”