The annual FIFA bun-fight, which still struggles to gain momentum and credibility, returns to Japan in a week or so and this year, the field is as imbalanced as ever: Barcelona, River Plate, Auckland City, Guangzhou Evergrande, TP Mazembe, a host representative from Japan (Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Gamba Osaka play off on December 5) and Mexico’s Club América.
América won the CONCACAF Champions League last season, their first victory since 2006. The Mexico City-based club, who play in the iconic Estadio Azteca, is the most successful club in Mexico. They beat Canada’s Montreal Impact in the final in 2014-15 and they are already making a good show of defending their title having reached the last eight.
When the competition resumes in February, América have a two-legged quarter-final against Seattle Sounders of the US. They’ve already disposed of Honduran side Motagua (4-0, 1-1) and Nicaragua’s Walter Ferretti (1-0, 3-1).
Perhaps the CONCACAF Champions League has distracted América in their pursuit of domestic glory. In the Apertura, they finished sixth, losing seven of their 17 games. The crowds continued to flock to the Azteca, however, and América had an average of 43,000-plus at their home games. In 2014-15, they won the Apertura and finished second in the Clausura.
There’s just a hint that the América boss may be under pressure
América changed their manager in May this year, however, with Gustavo Matosas leaving “by mutual consent” and Ignacio Ambriz taking his place. But America’s position as one of Mexico’s monied clubs is under threat in 2015. One of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim has invested in Grupo Pachuca, a company that has a stake in multiple football clubs worldwide, including Mexico’s Pachuca and Leon. América are owned by media giant Grupo Televisa.
There’s just a hint that Ambriz is under pressure at América, largely because the team performed very consistently in the Apertura, notably at home, where they won just three times in the season. Away form has been respectable, though.
But they can make amends in the Liguilla, the knockout tournament at the end of the Apertura that decides the championship and determines Champions League places. America are currently in the semi-final stage, but they have something of a mountain to climb as the first leg ended with a 3-0 win for Club Universidad Nacional (the Pumas) in the Azteca. In front of more than 73,000 people, the Pumas, who had never won a Liguilla game in the stadium, tore the home side apart in the final 20 minutes of the game. To rub salt in the wound, América had two men sent off. The second leg is on December 6.
A week later, they play their first game in the FIFA Club World Cup is on December 13 when they face China’s Ghangzhou in Osaka. América‘s squad is multi-national in the way that Latin American club football is. Of the 11 players that started against the Pumas, only four – goalkeeper Moises Munoz, central defender Paul Aguilar, midfielder Jose Guerrero and striker Oribe Peralta, were Mexican. There were two Argentinians, full-back Paulo Goltz and left-winger Rubens Sambueza, two Paraguayans, Pablo Aquilar (centre-half) and Osvaldo Martinez (midfield), and Ecuadorian in Michael Arroyo and Colombian striker Carlos Quintero. Another Argentinian, Dario Benedetto, who scored prolifically in last seasons’ Champions League and leading marksman this season on 10 goals, was on the bench, much to the confusion of the América faithful.
América have a busy schedule in the coming weeks. If they manage to turn around that three-goal deficit this weekend, they will defer the Liguilla final to the end of December, where they will face Toluca or Tigres UNAL. Before that, they will head for Japan for the FIFA gig and then into 2016, it is back to the Clausura and CONCACAF Champions League.