America get the job done
Despite being made to work a good deal harder than expected,
Mexico's Club America got off to a winning start at the FIFA
Club World Cup Japan 2006. The
Aguilas grabbed the only goal of the night against Jeonbuk
Hyundai Motors FC at Tokyo's National Stadium and now advance
to a semi-final date with the mighty Barcelona.
The Korean underdogs confounded the pundits by taking the game to their more-fancied challengers right from the off. Caught unawares by their opponents' high-tempo pressing game, the Mexicans were pinned back in their own half in the early stages as Wang Jung Hyun, Kim Hyeung Bum and the Brazilian Ze Carlos called the shots.
Nevertheless, it was the Eagles who created the first opening of the game when Jeonbuk keeper Kwoun Sun Tae charged out of his area before diverting the ball into the path of former Argentine international Claudio Lopez, who drove wastefully wide. The missed chance seemed to wake Luis Fernando Tena's side from their slumber and they began to dominate proceedings with some typically neat football. With Fabiano Pereira and Cuauhtemoc Blanco pulling the strings in midfield and Lopez and Salvador Cabanas constantly probing for space up front, the Koreans suddenly looked vulnerable.
The Aguilas began to carve out the steady stream of chances their cultured approach deserved, with Blanco cleverly playing in Fabiano Pereira only for the Brazilian to shoot just past the left post. Undeterred, Pereira tried his luck from distance, swiftly followed by another brace of long-range efforts from El Piojo Lopez. Cabanas then almost put the Mexicans ahead when seizing on a defensive error before being denied by a last-ditch tackle. The last chance of the first half fell to German Villa, who fired wide after a flowing team move.
The Koreans finally exerted some pressure of their own after the break and were almost rewarded five minutes in when keeper Guillermo Ochoa's clearance fell straight to Lim You Hwan, the striker's acrobatic overhead kick sailing just wide. Two minutes later, Kim Hyeung Bum saw his free-kick come back off the Mexican wall after the energetic Hwan was brought down just outside the area. Jeonbuk continued to push for the opener and it almost came when Ochoa denied Botti with a superb save after Kim Young Sun's fine run down the right.
After their first-half dominance, it was the Mexicans' turn to suffer as Jeonbuk continued to move the ball around with precision. The East Asians engineered another clear-cut opportunity with just 20 minutes left when Ze Carlos surged into the six-yard box only for the inspired Ochoa to pull off another smart block.
Just when it looked as if America had lost their way, they duly punished the AFC champions for their profligacy in front of goal. Not surprisingly, Cabañas was the creator, the ex-international popping up on the right and fizzing in a low cross that was gleefully turned home by the unmarked Ricardo Rojas.
Deflated by Rojas' surprise strike against the run of play, the Korean challenge faded into the Tokyo night as the CONCACAF representatives pressed for a second. Cabanas passed up two more fine chances before Juan Mosqueda rounded off the evening's catalogue of misses in the dying stages. The question is, with Barcelona next on the horizon, will the Aguilas still be flying high in Japan come Thursday?