Club America hungry for success
Such is Club America's determination to do well at Japan 2006 that not even the bracing cold of an Asian winter and a disappointing conclusion to their domestic season can dampen their spirits. In fact, far from affecting morale, the club's recent semi-final defeat to arch-rivals Chivas in the Mexican Apertura Championship has only served to motivate them further as they prepare for their FIFA Club World Cup debut on 11 December against Korea Republic's Jeonbuk Motors.
Although Los Aguilas (The Eagles) have been diligently preparing for this tournament from the moment they secured their qualification, their recent travails on the domestic front have clearly added another dimension to their participation at Japan 2006. But what better way to put that frustration behind them and move on than by battling it out with some of the finest clubs in world football?
America coach Luis Fernando Tena spoke openly about the issue when addressing the press shortly after his side's arrival in Japan. "For sure the manner in which we were knocked out (of the Apertura) hurt us, but we have to move on. It took a huge effort for us to get here - first we had to win our domestic championship, then that of the CONCACAF. We're going to try and win this tournament, and I believe we have players of immense quality, character and experience who can make it happen. Hopefully, we can show everyone the quality of the team and of our football, and make a very good impression."
Tena and his support staff have left nothing to chance in preparing for their opening game. "We've been following the Korean side for the last two months and now have detailed information on their best players and playing styles. We even watched some videos of them on the trip over, and now we're going to start analysing them in detail. We'll be ready," vowed the coach of the Azulcrema.
Up to the task in hand
This is just the latest demonstration of how much store the Mexican club are placing in the FIFA Club World Cup. "For Club America, participating here in the same year we celebrate our 90th anniversary is hugely significant. Consequently, we've brought our very best (team) here for this competition," assured Yon De Luisa, head of the America delegation.
It was a sentiment that had earlier been expressed by Manuel Lapuente, the club's Sporting Vice-President: " We're not going to the Club World Cup to make up the numbers, we're going there to win it . If that weren't the case, then we'd rather not take part at all. So, I'll say it again: we're going to Japan to become champions." If uttered by another sporting director, that sort of declaration could be seen as mere lip service, but coming as it did from one of Mexico's most successful coaches, both at domestic and international level, it deserves to be taken seriously.
The fire within
The club's talismanic striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who knows better than most what it means to wear the famous yellow and blue, is also clear about his side's objectives in the Far East. "We have to aim to win this tournament, which has huge importance for us. We'll do everything possible to make the final," the 33-year-old promised.
This hunger for glory runs right throughout the squad, being especially prevalent among some of the younger and less experienced players like defender Jose Antonio Castro and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. "All the clubs taking part in Japan will be putting their reputation on the line, which is why I believe they won't be treating it just like any other tournament. As well as wanting to acquit themselves well, every one of them will be doing their all to win the cup, including ourselves," Castro said before leaving Mexico.
Ochoa, who is already a keeper of considerable experience despite his tender years, echoed his team-mate's sentiment, saying: "If America can play their best football, then a lot of teams could be in for a surprise. We already played Barcelona in a (pre-season) friendly and, although the circumstances in Japan will be completely different, we realised that we could hold our own against any side in the world."