FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006

10 December - 17 December

FIFA Club World Cup 2006

Game on in derby-day finale

For four-time CONCACAF Champions Cup winners America, the appeal of a spot in next year's FIFA Club World Cup as champions of North, Central America and the Caribbean will be measured neck-and-neck, in terms of appeal for coaches, fans and players, with salvaging what has turned into a extremely disappointing run in the Clausura.

Head coach Manuel Lapuente - who took over after Victor Manuel Aguado's disastrous start to the current domestic campaign - will be desperate to lay hands on the top club prize in the region.

Club America and its throngs of fans are not accustomed to such clumsy falls from grace, and the CONCACAF Champions Cup represents the only real chance for Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Claudio Lopez and co. to bring a trophy home back home to the Azteca.

But CD Toluca - modestly supported and moderately successful when compared to their rivals in the the final - are having a sensational season by their own standards.  They will be far from a soft touch for their more prestigious neighbours. Currently in sixth spot in the Clausura table, Americo Gallego's men have been playing some fantastic football in both domestic and regional competition.

Both sides have reason to be confident heading into the home/away final series. America beat Toluca 1-0 the only other time the two sides met this year. However, Toluca will be bolstered by the fact that they currently sit three table spots ahead of 9th-place America in the Mexican domestic competition.

America, though, can also hang their hat on history in Champions Cup finals. The Aguilas have won out in all four of their four final appearances, while Toluca have only won two out of three, losing the 1998 finale to MLS outfit DC United, then coached by current US national team boss Bruce Arena.

Although Mexican teams have won the majority of CONCACAF Champions Cups (21 out of 40), the 2006 final will be only the third all-Mexican final in the competition's long history. 

How they got there
America arrived at their fifth CONCACAF Champions Cup final thanks to a fine run of form in strict opposition to their indifferent domestic performances. Toluca - for their part - have been the form team of the 2006 competition, playing with verve and ambition.

With a friendly draw in the quarter-final leg, Aaron Padilla led the way for America to a 7-3 aggregate victory over courageous Jamaican outfit Portmore United. The islanders, deciding to play their home leg in Texas for financial reasons, were never in with more than a sympathetic shout and they were swamped in what were effectively two 'away' games.

Toluca's quarter-final series was a far sterner test. Up against Olimpia, the Honduran champions looked like a potential banana skin. But a 2-0 win on the road in San Pedro Sula took the air out of the affair. The first goal - a 50-yard stunner from Rodrigo Díaz - had the crowd gasping and marked Toluca's ambitions from the outset.  The return leg proved an even simpler affair as the Red Devils won out 2-1 to make it a handy 4-1 on aggregate.

One step from an all-Mexican final, Costa Rican opposition stood in the way.

For Toluca, it was last year's champions Deportivo Saprissa. Attempting to kill off the affair early, a 2-0 win for the Mexicans on the road in Alajuela looked like doing just that. Carlos Esquivel scored two goals in a stunning performance alongside outstanding strike partner Vicente Sanchez. But the second leg was always going to be a tough one at the cauldron-like Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose. True to form, the third-place finishers from the recent FIFA Club World Championship in Japan roared to meet their crowd's cries. In the end, Saprissa's impressive 3-2 win on the day was not enough. A last-minute strike from Sanchez saw Toluca through by a slim 4-3 aggregate in what was, up to that point, the game of the competition. 

Club America were faced with the tough task of getting past Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. The Tico outfit had been having their troubles scoring in previous games, and the semi-final series was to be no different. The first leg in Alajuela saw Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Claudio Lopez swing the balance and force a 2-1 win for America. The second leg, up 7000 feet in mountains that surround Mexico City at the intimidating Azteca, then ended a predictable 0-0 to see the Mexicans through.

The 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup finals series will be played on 12 April and 19 April, with the first leg at Toluca's Estadio Nemesio Diez and the second at America's Azteca. 

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