The 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League has produced a little bit of everything over the last eight months, with the 24 teams gunning for the continental title serving up a heady mix of thrilling comebacks, big wins, nailbiting excitement and the odd surprise or two. When the dust finally settled, though, it was defending champions America who had the honour of lifting the trophy.
Las Águilas eased to a 4-1 aggregate defeat of Tigres in the final to secure their third appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup as the representatives of the CONCACAF Zone. FIFA.com tells the story of how they made it to Japan 2016.
“There was a lot of frustration in the dressing room. We were very excited about the Club World Cup, and to go out of the competition in the last minute is really hard to take. We need to turn the page though.”
The words are those of America’s Argentinian striker Dario Benedetto, giving his reaction to *FIFA.com *after his side’s quarter-final defeat to Asian representatives Guangzhou Evergrande at Japan 2015, their opening game of the competition. The sentiment behind those comments stayed with Benedetto and his team-mates, firing them in their bid to return to the Land of the Rising Sun, one of their key objectives this year.
Drawn in Group E of the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League, America got off to the best of starts, recording three wins and a draw to win the section, and scoring nine goals and conceding two in the process. Their first major test came in the last eight, where Seattle Sounders held them to a 2-2 draw in the first leg. The Mexicans regained their stride in the second leg at home, however, easing to a 3-1 win.
Their semi-final against Santos proved to be the tightest tie of the entire knockout phase, with both legs going goalless until Michael Arroyo popped up with a winner for Las Águilas in the 12th minute of extra time in the return fixture. Waiting for the defending champions in the final were a Tigres side determined to take their title from them. Ignacio Ambriz’s charges had the measure of their compatriots, however, winning home and away to record an impressive 4-1 aggregate victory.
Emanuel Villa was the competition’s top scorer with six goals. The Queretaro front man showcased his superlative form on the continental stage and had a big hand in his side advancing to the semi-finals. Also excelling was America captain Rubens Sambueza, whose creative skills in the middle of the pitch led to him providing seven assists, more than any other player in the competition.
Tigres’ French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac delighted their fans with his five goals, most of which came when his side were in need of some individual brilliance. Last but not least, Djaniny Tavares led the Santos front line with distinction. Together, he and his fellow forwards racked up 114 attempts on goal, second only to the champions, who amassed a grand total of 126.
*The surprises *
Queretaro were among the tournament revelations. Making their debut in the competition, the Mexican outfit displayed a maturity commensurate with more experienced campaigners. After winning Group C, they saw off DC United 3-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals before going down 2-0 to Tigres in the semis. By way of consolation Queretaro picked up the Fair Play award.
In contrast, Costa Rica’s representatives were unable to reach the heights they achieved last year, when their three teams advanced to the knockout phase. Saprissa and Herediano’s failure to advance from groups A and B respectively left the way open for Mexican and MLS teams to each take four places in the last eight. Mexico’s representatives then took over, occupying all four semi-final berths.
*7 - *the number of CONCACAF titles America have now won, with their latest triumph taking them past Cruz Azul as the most successful team in the tournament’s history.
What they said
“I’d like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to offer a title to the fans and the directors. I’d like to congratulate my players for the huge amount of effort they have put in and for the commitment they have shown since our disappointing showing at the Club World Cup. I don’t know if I’m going to make it back there because in this business it’s all about results, but at least I’ve made my little contribution in giving the club a chance to set the record straight in Japan.” America coach Ignacio Ambriz
Did you know?
In beating Tigres home and away, America became the first team in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League to win both the first and second legs of a final.