CONCACAF: Mexicans favourites again as Champions League resumes
The CONCACAF Champions League resumes this week with an interesting fixture list as the competition commences its knockout stages. There are two all-Mexican affairs as well as an all-American encounter and an intriging match-up involving the record champions of Costa Rica and Honduras. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks ahead to the last eight clashes.
With Mexican clubs dominating this tournament in recent years the odds are very favourable that this pattern of events will continue this season although one big relief for the rest of the opposition is that the Mexican contingent will be cut by half in the quarter-final stages. Group B winners Santos Laguna, who came top of a group containing Columbus Crew, Municipal CSD and Joe Public FC, will meet compatriots Cruz Azul who have not enjoyed their fair share of luck in this tournament in recent years. The last time Los Cementos won this tournament was in its former guise of the Champions Cup in 1997 but since then have lost the last two Champions League finals against Atlante FC (2008-09) and Pachuca CF (2009-10). If they are to make it third time lucky then they will have to get the better of a Mexican side in both the next two rounds.
That’s because the winners of this game are due to meet the winners of the other all-Mexican clash between Deportivo Toluca and current Mexican champions Monterrey CF. Deportivo Toluca, at the time of writing, have the fourth best record in the current Mexican Clausura championship and are in good form coming into their quarter-final against Apertura champions Monterrey who are hoping to win the continent’s biggest prize for the first time in thier history. Monterrey finished top of Group D ahead of Deportivo Saprissa, CD Marathón and Seattle Sounders with the best record of 5-1-0 in the group stage whilst Toluca had to be satisifed with second spot in Group C behind Olimpia.
The all-American affair between Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake will be much anticipated especially as the competition is awaiting its first winner from Major League Soccer. 2009 MLS champions Real Salt Lake finished ahead of Cruz Azul at the top of Group A and will prove a stern test for 2008 MLS champions Columbus Crew who had to contend with second spot in Group B behind Santos Laguna. But, with the 2011 MLS season not beginning until March 15th, both teams will want to lay down a marker ahead of the new domestic season with success on the international stage. The final quarter-final sees Costa Rican giants Deportivo Saprissa, three-time winners and the last team from outside Mexico to win this tournament in 2005, face up to the challenge of Hondurans CD Olimpia who won the second of their two continental titles to date in 1988. Saprissa finished six points behind Monterrey in their group whilst Olimpia pipped Toluca to the top in Group D by three points and the winners of this quarter-final will meet the victors of the all-American clash.
The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played on February 22-24 with the second legs following on March 1-3.
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL DRAW (All two-legged ties – team on left at home in 1st leg)
1. Deportivo Toluca v Monterrey CF
2. Cruz Azul v Santos Laguna
3. Columbus Crew v Real Salt Lake
4. Deportivo Saprissa v CD Olimpia
5. Winner Match 1 v Winner Match 2
6. Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4
7. Winner Match 5 v Winner Match 6