A long journey before a tournament fixture can be a gruelling experience for any team. But for Cruz Azul and Western Sydney Wanderers the many hours of air travel needed to get to Morocco – 30 in the case of the Australian club – could have a positive effect. After all, both teams have been in disappointing form back home since winning their respective continental tournaments, and making their debuts in a competition as important as the FIFA Club World Cup might be just the tonic they need. This makes the quarter-final tie in Rabat this Saturday even more important than usual for two clubs with very different histories.
Cruz Azul - Western Sydney Wanderers, Stade Moulay-Abdallah, Rabat, 13 December, 19.30 (local time)
Winning the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in 17 years finally gave Cruz Azul – a club that was founded almost 90 years ago – the chance to compete at the Club World Cup. During this period five other Mexican teams have graced the competition, though with little success. Avoiding the early exits of Pachuca (in 2007 and 2010) and Monterrey (in 2011 and 2013) and setting up a confrontation with Real Madrid in the semi-finals will be the goal of Los Cementeros, who even visited the Santiago Bernabeu stadium a few days ago on their way to Rabat. Coach Luis Fernando Tena’s team have been surprised by the cold in the Moroccan capital, but the buoyant mood during training sessions shows that the players are ready to put their recent eliminations from the Liga MX and the Champions League behind them.
Western Sydney Wanderers, whose patchy form since winning the AFC Champions League in November has left the team bottom of the Australian A-League, also faced a long trip to Morocco. But it will take more than jet lag and a few defeats to change the approach of this small club, which was only founded in 2012, and is gradually learning to live with the pressure of being a continental champion. Perhaps that is why coach Tony Popovic has avoided talking about a potential clash with Real Madrid, preferring instead to focus on the quarter-final. Popovic has used the team’s training sessions in Rabat to concentrate on a return to the style of play that worked successfully against tough Asian opposition in the Champions League. Their Algerian opponents will not need reminding that it is a style built around defensive solidity – Wanderers did not concede a goal in their last four games in the tournament – and opportunistic finishing.
23 – The number of matches played by Mexican teams (who scored 35 goals in the process) in ten editions of the Club World Cup. That is the highest total of any country, and only Brazil can match the six different clubs that Mexico has now sent to the tournament. The country has a long way to go, however, before it can rival the success of the South American giants: while four Brazilian teams have won the competition, no Mexican side has even reached the final, with America (2006), Pachuca (2008) Atlante (2009) and Monterrey (2012) having being eliminated in the semi-finals.
"Cruz Azul are a very experienced team, with players boasting lots of international experience. But we know they’ve been going through a difficult time at home. Knowing they're in a similar position to us gives us confidence. We hope to take advantage of their struggles, but we know it won’t be easy.” Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric
“We didn’t do well in the Liga MX this year, but the Club World Cup is another story and we need to play to our true potential. We‘re really motivated. We know we can compete with the best, and we want to make history, both for the club and for Mexico. We’re up against a good team, with a lot of height, so we need to be careful at set pieces. We will have to be at our best to go through.” Cruz Azul midfielder Christian Gimenez