Monterrey’s 3-2 win against host nation side Al-Sadd meant they progressed to the semi-finals of the Club World Cup, where they will face Liverpool.
The Mexican side made hard work of this second-round game against the Qatari outfit managed by former Barcelona midfielder Xavi.
But they progressed as expected following goals from Leonel Vangioni, Rogelio Funes Mori (twin brother of ex-Everton defender Ramiro) and Carlos Rodriguez.
The strike from left-back Vangioni will take some beating in this tournament, as he let off a rocket of a shot into the top corner.
In qualifying for this competition, Monterrey saw off two American sides in the knockout stages on their way to Champions League glory in the Concacaf region, including a victory against the highly rated Atlanta United.
They defeated Sporting Kansas City 10-2 on aggregate in the semi-final, before beating fellow Liga MX side and local rivals Tigres 2-1 in the two-legged final.
Centre-back Nicolas Sanchez scored both Monterrey goals in that final and is featuring for Rayados (their nickname which refers to their striped shirts) in the Club World Cup.
Sanchez made the Concacaf Champions League‘s Team of the Tournament, along with four of his team-mates: Argentinian goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero, wide player Miguel Layun, midfielder Carlos Rodriguez and 25-year-old winger Jesus Gallardo, who has often been linked with a move to Europe.
Monterrey have won as many Concacaf Champions Leagues as they have Liga MX titles, suggesting they are able to adapt to international competitions but struggle to cross the line in the domestic league.
They haven’t won the title since an Apertura triumph in 2010.
Monterrey are fifth on the all-time table in the Club World Cup, having won the Concacaf Champions League four times this decade. They have won four of the seven games previously played in the tournament, drawing one.
Despite regular appearances, their best finish is only a third-place playoff win in 2012, in which they defeated Al-Ahly while Corinthians defeated Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea in the final.
South American teams are known for taking this competition more seriously than most, and this could be reflected in Mexico where many fans from across the country will be supporting Monterrey and hoping they are able to do well.
It helps that Monterrey’s only real rivalry is with Tigres, who are from the same city, with many of the league’s other clubs based further south closer to Mexico City.
No Mexican team has ever made the Club World Cup final, so the country will be watching in the hope their representatives can cause an upset against the favourites.
Form & Key Men
Following a poor start to their domestic season, Monterrey come into the game in good form. Former head coach Antonio Mohamed has returned and this immediately saw an upturn in results.
The Mexican league season is split into two parts, the opening (Apertura) and closing (Clausura), and we are now reaching the end of the former.
Monterrey’s improved form saw them sneak into the final play-off place, and they went on to knock out the league leaders, Santos Laguna, on the way to the final.
That final has been delayed due to Monterrey’s participation in the Club World Cup, so they will face America in the two-legged affair on Boxing Day and December 29 once they return from Qatar.
In terms of the way they’ll set up, Mohamed is generally quite a pragmatic coach who likes to sit deep with a well-organised defence and hit teams on the counter-attack. He also works a lot on set-pieces.
Key players include ex-Tottenham striker Vincent Janssen (if he’s fit), who’s played very well in a couple of the play-off games.
If not, the other striking option, Funes Mori, can fill in very well. Both are great at holding the ball up to facilitate those counter-attacks as runners move around them.
Dorlan Pabon is an experienced winger/forward who can be very effective when given space on the break, and the aforementioned Sanchez is a dominant Argentine centre back who regularly scores from set-pieces and penalties.
Rodolfo Pizarro, who normally plays as a No. 10, is a Mexico regular, and although he can be inconsistent, he is also capable of producing game-changing moments.
Expectations for Liverpool
Liverpool will be expected to win this game and looking at Monterrey’s game against Al-Sadd they are overwhelming favourites.
But they will have to be wary of the Mexican’s threat on the counter where they will look to isolate the Reds’ defenders and create one-on-one situations.
This is a much more difficult competition for the English teams than it’s often presented as, and Liverpool know this first-hand having lost to Sao Paulo in 2005.
During Liverpool’s European success of the ’80s they also lost two Intercontinental Cup finals—a tournament which pitted the European and South American champions against each other before the creation of the Club World Cup in 2000.
The only English team to have won these global competitions is Man United, but Liverpool will be hoping to change that this year and the club seems to be taking it very seriously.
And the fans should too, beginning with the semi-final against the best North and Central America has to offer.
After all, which club doesn’t want to be known as world champions?