CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers: End of the Road

Posted on December 14, 2012 10:44 pm

Monterrey’s 2012 Club World Cup run will finish just like their previous one: in a consolation match against North African opposition.

Such an assertion admittedly overlooks the clear improvement in the rayados’ performance over last year. Yes, Chelsea threatened to play them off the field in the first 20 minutes; and a horribly frail start to the second half put the game out of reach before the Mexicans could even settle in. Their scintillating performance against Ulsan Hyundai, though, will go down as arguably the best-ever showing by a CONCACAF club on the global stage; and Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side still have a shot of equaling the third-place accomplishments of Necaxa and Deportivo Saprissa in 2000 and 2005 (respectively), all without the services of star player Humberto “Chupete” Suazo.

Before getting to their last bow in Japan, we shift our attention to Central America, where a number of league championships will commence over the weekend. First, in Guatemala, old foes Municipal and Comunicaciones will play the first leg of the 2012 Apertura final tonight at 9:00 p.m. (all times EST). Down in Nicaragua, two rivals who are also accustomed to facing each other for domestic glory will meet again, as Real Esteli receive Managua-based Walter Ferreti at the Estadio Independencia on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. (available on FutbolNica Radio and possibly TeleNorte). After the first leg finished scoreless, Walter Ferreti will enjoy the advantage of being able to end their two-year trophy drought with a tie other than 0-0, given that the away-goals rule is in effect. Esteli, then, will look to win outright at home, avoid extra time and capture their fourth title on the trot.

The victor will still need to either outperform all others in the Clausura regular season or win the tournament outright in order to claim Nicaragua’s sole berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. Thus, our next qualifier will emerge elsewhere…following proceedings in the Far East.

Sunday, December 16:

CF Monterrey (CONCACAF/Mexico) vs. Al Ahly (CAF/Egypt), 2:30 a.m.

Monterrey’s last competitive fixture in 2012 will involve a team that has made a mockery of the complaints of low match-fitness that dogged the regiomontanos on their first trip to the Club World Cup. Forget not making the most recent postseason (although the Egyptian Premier League follows the same format as its English namesake): the emperors of Africa have had practically no domestic activity to speak of, following the Port Said tragedy that made news the world over and the indefinite suspension of league football. Nonetheless, they managed to defeat all comers en route to yet another African Champions League title; and in the last week, they knocked off host-team Sanfrecce Hiroshima and very nearly dragged their semifinal with Corinthians into overtime. The scouting report on them centers around playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika, who has been employed as a second-half supersub in both games, scoring the game-winner in the quarterfinals and singlehandedly sharpening his team’s attack against the favored Copa Libertadores winners. On the other side, assuming that Monterrey’s defenders are no longer preoccupied with chasing the shadows of Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard, they should be able to hold down the fort long enough for the front line led by Aldo de Nigris to find the necessary breakthrough and succeed where no fewer than three other azteca clubs have failed.

Back in our corner of the world, Isidro Metapan will enjoy the first opportunity to maintain their perfect-attendance record in the CCL in the Salvadoran Apertura Final against de facto hosts Alianza.

On Sunday at 4:00 p.m., the one-off Final at the Estadio Cuscatlan will pit the most successful club in the CCL era against a side with only one domestic title to show for the last six years. Having said that, if Rodolfo Zelaya has come closer to regaining his 2011 Gold Cup form, Alianza must be considered a serious threat to delay the jaguares’ next domestic conquest.

After proceedings finish in San Salvador, another Apertura will wrap up next door, as Olimpia host Victoria in the second leg of the Honduran final at 5:00 p.m. While neither side was able to disturb the net in La Ceiba, the lack of an away-goals rule here forces the visitors to consider this showdown a practical one-off. Should they pull it off, Victoria will finally break the Honduran Big Four’s stranglehold on the country’s Champions League spots; but Olimpia have yet to miss out on the continental championship, and their advantage in big-game experience renders them heavy favorites to retain their domestic crown.

Later, Herediano and Alajuelense will contest a trophy for the third time in as many years (not counting the recently-revived Supercopa), with the first leg of the Torneo de Invierno Final set to take place in the Estadio Rosabal Cordero at 7:00 p.m. (to be broadcast on Canal 6). The manudos did top the regular-season table, and their greater domestic success over the last three years points to them as slight favorites to pick up where they left off with the 2010-11 tricampeonato. The hosts, however, can rightly point to their status as defending champions and CCL quarterfinalists to defend their claim as the best team in the land, and arguably all of Central America. Even better, after American businessman David Patey agreed to take over the club, the players could receive whatever championship bonuses are due them straight from the front office, rather than take part in a postseason cash grab like what happened following their Torneo de Verano triumph.

Finally, the second leg of the aforementioned Guatemalan Apertura Final has oddly been scheduled for Monday at 8:00 p.m. Whoever wins, let us hope that none of the shocking scenes that sullied the last match of the 2011 Clausura (including Municipal ultras launching explosives onto the field during the first half and Comunicaciones supporters entering the opposing section to attack rival fans after the game) are repeated.

CCL 2013-14 Qualifiers

1. Sporting Kansas City [USA4]
2. San Jose Earthquakes [USA2]
3. Houston Dynamo [USA3]
4. LA Galaxy [USA1]
5. Toluca FC [MEX2 or MEX3]
6. Club Tijuana [MEX1]
7. Árabe Unido [PAN1 or PAN2]
8. Isidro Metapán [SLV1 or SLV2]
9. Olimpia [HON1 or HON2]
10. Comunicaciones [GUA1 or GUA2]

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