Club World Cup 2011: “Rest of World” Round

Posted on December 10, 2011 11:11 pm

This is what they worked for over two years to achieve.

This is what every club in our region works to achieve – with the exception of those disconnected from world football.

Tomorrow morning, the 11 starters selected by Victor Manuel Vucetich to defend Monterrey’s standard will take the field in a stadium thousands of miles from home, in front of a vociferous home crowd and a global television audience, as champions of their continent. Their journey began in the 2009 Mexican Apertura: Aldo de Nigris, galvanized by the sudden passing of his brother, scored at will as he led Monterrey to the league championship. The following season, Monterrey handily dominated their Champions League group, survived two straight knockout series with fellow Mexican teams and overcame Real Salt Lake in the Final, all without losing a game. It has all led to tomorrow’s Club World Cup quarterfinal, Monterrey’s opportunity to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage they have ever faced.

Before we get to the upcoming matchday, just take a second and think: with just one goal at the Rio Tinto, it could have been Real Salt Lake preparing to play a World Cup match in front of viewers in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, as champions of their region. Next year, it could very well be the LA Galaxy grabbing headlines around the world (even without David Beckham on board); and right now, there is nothing stopping the likes of Toronto FC and Isidro Metapan from dreaming of international glory. Of course, up to now Deportivo Saprissa have been the only non-Mexican club to represent our corner of the world in a FIFA tournament – although LA and Olimpia would have done so if the ISL collapse had not brought the 2001 Club World Cup down with it – but any professional team, your team, could potentially be where Monterrey is today.

Tomorrow’s action in Japan begins at 2:00 a.m. (all times EST), with an all-Arab showdown between Esperance of Tunisia and Al-Sadd of Qatar. The champions of Africa and Asia will battle for the honor of taking on the consensus best team in the world (no points for guessing who) on Thursday, but the loser will have to stick around and play for fifth place against the loser of the following match.

Sunday, December 11:

Kashiwa Reysol (Host/Japan) vs. CF Monterrey (CONCACAF/Mexico), 5:30 a.m.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that the rayados will face a Japanese team. On the other hand, Kashiwa Reysol have only previously played one official match against an international opponent, the first game of this CWC (2012 will mark Kashiwa’s debut in the AFC Champions League). And the brief history of encounters between Mexican and Asian teams in this tournament is evenly split: Club America beat Cheonbuk Motors 1-0 back in 2006, Gamba Osaka overcame Pachuca by the same scoreline in 2008, and both Atlante-Pohang Steelers in 2009 and Pachuca-Al Wahda last year ended in draws.

In short, I am hard-pressed to pick a favorite in this game. The important take-away for Monterrey is that there is nothing stopping them from winning; and based on what we saw in Kashiwa’s opening game, the home support will not be sufficiently intimidating to influence matters. It is true that Monterrey do not come into this game in the best of form; they failed to reach the current Apertura playoffs, and came perilously close to tumbling out of the current CONCACAF Champions League. But while Kashiwa have had no time to catch their breath after the J.League championship, Monterrey have had over a month to rest up and prepare for this moment. When Humberto Suazo, Cesar Delgado, de Nigris, Sergio Santana, Walter Ayovi and Jesus Zavala are on song, Monterrey play the best football of any team in North America; whether that is enough for this new challenge, we will find out.

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