Though Mexico’s Atlante had hoped for better than fourth place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, in the end it was all they could manage after a painful penalty shoot-out defeat against Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers in the match for third place.

On what was their debut appearance in the competition, coach Jose Cruz had set his players the target of finishing at least third to emulate the achievements of their compatriots and rivals Necaxa, who took bronze at the inaugural edition in 2000.

The CONCACAF champions came agonisingly close to achieving their goal, only for lady luck to desert them when it mattered most. Striker Gabriel Pereyra was denied by the woodwork three times against their Korean opponents, before Rafael Marquez and Heracio Peralta missed their kicks in the penalty shoot-out to end their dreams of a podium finish.

Shortly after their bitter disappointment, caught up with Atlante’s Argentinian goalkeeper and captain Federico Vilar, who said: “Although we failed to achieve (our) target, we’ve learned a lot from participating in the tournament and are looking forward to playing here again.”

The 32-year-old insisted his team-mates were not lacking in self-belief, saying, “We’d set ourselves the goal of finishing in the top three and accomplishing something historic for the club. We firmly believed we could achieve that, but we fell at the final hurdle. Results aside, it’s been a fantastic experience here and we’ve learned a lot from it.”

Vilar would dearly like another shot at club football’s ultimate prize, but knows he will have to wait at least two years to realise that ambition, his side having failed to qualify for the 2009-2010 CONCACAF Champions League currently underway.  “Unfortunately we can’t come back next year. First we need a top-two finish in our national league and then we have to win the Champions League, so the earliest will be 2011.”

The player, who accepted the FIFA Fair Play Award on behalf of the team, promised to do better next time, saying, “We’re already thinking of our next appearance here and maybe then we’ll achieve the result we want.”

Asked what he would personally take away from Abu Dhabi, Vilar replied, “The opportunity to take part in a tournament featuring the best sides in the world and then competing for a medal. Yes, I’m disappointed we didn’t do better, but it was nonetheless a wonderful experience.”