Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA: Pachuca claim 5th place thanks to Cvitanovich

Posted in Asian Football, North and Central American Football by peterbein on December 15, 2010

Dario CvitanivichNorth and Central American champions Pachuca CF had their Argentinian striker Dario Cvitanvich to thank as they ultimately heralded a fifth place finish in their FIFA Club World Cup 5th/6th play-off match with local favourites Al-Wahda in Abu Dhabi.

The United Arab Emirates champions took a 1-0 lead into the break thanks to an Ismail Matar strike just sixty seconds before the half-time whistle. In the second half Hamdan Al Kamali saw red as he received a second yellow card which left Al-Wahda with ten men and only eighteen minutes left on the clock. However their setback was to be forgotten five minutes later when Mahmoud Al Hammadi popped up to double their lead and it looked like the Mexican side were going to suffer the ignominy of losing both their games in this year’s tournament. But it was with eight minutes to play that the game turned into the Dario Cvitanivich show with the Argentine pulling a goal back in the 82nd minute. With just sixty seconds of normal time to go Cvitanovich guided the ball home from close range to send the game into extra-time, during which there was no further scoring.

Pachuca, who have four continental titles to their name, showed the most composure from twelve yards (eleven metres if you prefer) as they converted all of their four necessary kicks. Al-Wahda, on the other hand, missed with their third and fourth efforts through club captain Abdulraheem Jumaa and Modibi Diarra. This allowed the Mexicans to restore some pride and breathe a sigh of relief as they won the shoot-out 4-2 to seal fifth place in their third FIFA Club World Cup competition.

FIFA: TP Mazembe and Seongnam to meet big boys in semi-finals

TP Mazembe

TP Mazembe (in black and white stripes) upset Pachuca and hope to do the same to Internacional on Tuesday

The quarter-final stages have passed in this year’s FIFA Club World Cup with African champions TP Mazembe and Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma having made it through to the final four of the competition where they will meet South American champions Internacional and European champions Internazionale FC respectively.

TP Mazembe, champions of Africa for the past two seasons, faced up to the North & Central American champions Pachuca in their quarter-final match-up this weekend. Having defeated the Mexicans by a goal to nil, Mbenza Bedi scoring the only goal in the 21st minute, the Congolese side have already bettered their performance in last year’s tournament. Last time out Mazembe were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Pohang Steelers so this year represents further progress on the international stage although the club were disappointed not to win their domestic championship this year, losing out to AS Vita-Club by virtue of goal difference. Nonetheless for coach Lamine N’Diaye Tuesday’s encounter with this year’s Copa Libertadores champions Internacional of Porto Alegre will be an historic match for the club and they will want to upset the odds by becoming the first club from outside Europe or South America to participate in the final of this tournament.

Saša Ognenovski

Saša Ognenovski scored in Seongnam's 4-1 win over Al-Wahda

The same goes for Asian club champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma who defeated United Arab Emirates representatives Al-Wahda by a much more comfortable scoreline of four goals to one. Mauricio Molina, Saša Ognenovski, Choi Sung-Kuk and Cho Dong-Geon scored the goals for the South Korean club who will compete in the semi-finals in their maiden appearance in this tournament. Their opponents on Wednesday are UEFA Champions League winners Internazionale FC who have struggled domestically in recent weeks having taken only five points from their last six Serie A games, their only victory coming against AC Parma a fortnight ago. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma have completed their K-League season, losing in the 2nd round of  the Championship play-offs and have only played in one competitive fixture since November 24th. For Seongnam’s coach Shin Tae-Yong Wednesday’s game is a real chance to upset the odds and they will hope that the Italians will have another off-day. Inter coach Rafael Benítez, however, has unfinished business in this tournament having been a runner-up with Liverpool FC in 2005 and success in this year’s competition could be the difference between keeping or losing his job.

FIFA: Club World Cup 2010 Preview

FIFA Club World CupFor the second year running the FIFA Club World Cup will be held in the United Arab Emirates and it looks like being yet another thrilling competition. Last year saw 2008-09 UEFA Champions League holders FC Barcelona narrowly edge out 2009 Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes de La Plata with the Catalans needing extra-time to defeat their illustrious Argentinian opponents. This year it is expected that this truly “international” tournament will prove to be so with 2009-10 UEFA Champions League winners FC Internazionale Milano face off against their South American counterparts Internacional of Porto Alegre. But there are five other teams who hope to have their shot of glory and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at all seven contenders.

INTERNAZIONALE FC – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10

The José Mourinho era may be over but Internazionale FC still go into this tournament as favourites despite some initial teething problems under new coach Rafael Benítez. Inter haven’t been crowned world champions since 1965 when they defeated Argentinian side Independiente in the old Intercontinental Cup and the Nerazzurri are desperate to add the new trophy to their list of achievements. Internazionale became European champions for the third time in their history having beaten German giants FC Bayern München 2-0 in Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, ironically where their former coach now works. Their current coach Benítez has been in the final of this tournament once before but saw his Liverpool FC side lose to a Brazilian side in the final. Will history repeat itself for the Spaniard? Inter first have to dispose any of Hekari United, Al-Wahda or Seongnam Ilhwa Chuma at the last four stage before they can think of the final.

INTERNACIONAL SC – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2010

The last South American team to win this trophy, Internacional are hoping to create history by becoming the first team to win the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time since the tournament was re-branded in 2004. Their first triumph in this competition came in 2006 in Tokyo where they defeated an FC Barcelona side who were expected to turn up and win the trophy but Inter had other ideas and Adriano Gabiru’s 82nd minute strike remains the club’s finest moment. Internacional would’ve qualified for this year’s tournament even had they have lost the Copa Libertadores final to Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara but a 5-3 aggregate victory for the Porto Alegre based side means that they travel to the UAE with the champion status they deserve. Internacional will face the winners of TP Mazembe and CF Pachuca in the semi-finals.

CF PACHUCA – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10

The champions of North and Central America are competing in this tournament for the third time which is a competition best along with Egyptians Al Ahly. Pachuca’s two previous appearances saw them exit at the quarter-final stage in 2007 before losing to Gamba Osaka in a 3rd/4th place play-off twelve months later. The Mexicans saw off the challenge from compatriots Cruz Azul in the two-legged CONCACAF Champions League final winning courtesy of the away goals rule. Following a 2-1 away defeat, Pachuca were only seconds away from disappointment as the second leg reached its dying moments. However Édgar Benítez’s last gasp goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time gave Pachuca their fourth continental title and another shot of glory at the world stage. They will face off against African champions TP Mazembe in the quarter-finals.

TP MAZEMBE – CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2010

The Congolese side are back-to-back African champions and undoubtedly the strongest team on the African continental at the moment. Tout Puissant Mazembe, to give their official name, have come back to prominence in the last couple of years and have put four decades without the top African trophy firmly behind them. Following what was an unexpected CAF Champions League win in 2009 TP Mazembe proved their critics wrong by thrashing Tunisian champions Espérance Tunis 6-1 on aggregate and will hope to better their performance in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 where they failed to beat Asian champions Pohang Steelers and OFC Champions Auckland City. Coach Lamine N’Diaye has to negotiate his team’s way through the quarter-finals against CONCACAF champions CF Pachuca before they can meet Internacional SC in the last four stage.

SEONGNAM ILHWA CHUNMA – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2010

The South Koreans may not have won a domestic trophy in four years but that didn’t prevent them from winning Asian football’s elite club competition this year. Coming from the city of Seongnam, this team qualified for the 2010 AFC Champions League as losing finalists from the 2009 K-League final which they lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup having defeated Iranian side Zob Ahan Isfahan in the AFC Champions League winning 3-1 in the National Stadium, Tokyo. Their reward is to play against the winners of the qualifying match between Ocenaia champions Hekari United and UAE League champions Al-Wahda in the quarter-finals. Should they be successful in their opening match a semi-final against European champions Internazionale FC awaits.

PKR HEKARI UNITED – OFC O-LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009-10

The rise of Papua New Guinea’s biggest club has been something of a fairytale in world football’s smallest confederation. Having only picked up just one point from their opening two group matches in the 2009-10 O-League, Hekari United then won all of their four remaining games against group opponents Lautoka FC, Tafea FC and Marist FC before going on to meet strong favourites Waitakere United in the final. The New Zealanders, twice O-League champions in the previous three years, came unstuck in the first leg in Port Moresby losing 3-0 before going on to gain some pride with a 2-1 second leg win. The 4-2 aggregate victory for Hekari signalled the first time that a club from outside Australia or New Zealand had won Oceania’s top tournament and rewards them with a qualifying match against UAE champions Al-Wahda which they’ll hope to win in order to meet Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.

AL-WAHDA – UNITED ARAB EMIRATES PREMIER LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10

In order to gain some local interest FIFA has decided to include the national champions of the host nation in the last four tournaments. The middle eastern state of the United Arab Emirates hosts this tournament for a second consecutive year and it is 2009-10 Premier League champions Al-Wahda who will hope to do their country proud. Al-Wahda qualified for the tournament after winning their national championship by seven points from nearest challengers Al Jazira and they will hope to better the performance of last year’s representatives Al-Ahli who lost 2-0 to OFC Champions League winners Auckland City in the play-off round. Should Al-Wahda defeat Hekari United in this year’s play-off they will face off against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the quarter-finals.

Mexico: Monterrey and Santos qualify for Apertura final

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on November 29, 2010
Monterrey

Can Monterrey reclaim the Apertura title they won last season?

Monterrey and Santos Laguna have the chance to win the 2010-11 Mexican Apertura title after they defeated UNAM Pumas and Club América respectively. For Monterrey it’s a chance to defend the title that they won in the 2009-10 season whilst for Santos Laguna it’s the perfect opportunity to win a first domestic title since winning the 2007-08 Clausura tournament.

Monterrey were involved in a goalless draw in their semi-final first leg match against the Pumas and the second leg seemed destined to end in the same score line until two very late goals decided the match in Santos’ favour. Humberto Suazo finally broke the deadlock on 88 minutes with Neri Cardozo making the game safe two minutes into stoppage time by scoring the second goal of the game. Monterrey’s 2-0 win ensures that the club have the chance to defend the Apertura title they won last season, in which they defeated Cruz Azul in the final.

Santos Laguna were involved in a thrilling couple of games against Club América with the former going into last night’s second leg with a 2-1 lead. Carlos Quintero increased Santos’ aggregate lead by scoring the first goal of the return fixture after just two minutes. Vicente Sánchez restored parity on the night for Club América after 61 minutes only to see the home side re-take the lead sixty seconds later with Quintero scoring his second of the game. Matías Vuoso made the second leg 2-2 after 67 minutes but Santos regained the advantage for a third time with a quarter of an hour remaining thanks to Christian Benítez. Enrique Esqueda’s goal made the game 3-3 with five minutes to play but Santos were able to see out the rest of the match and take the tie 5-4 on aggregate.

With both Apertura finalists already qualified for the quarter-final stages of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League it would be the cherry on top of the cake to take domestic honours going into the second half of the season. The first leg of the Apertura final takes place on Thursday, December 2nd in the city of Torreón whilst Monterrey plays host to the second leg three days later. Both clubs have three league titles to their name – who can make sure of Number Four?

CONCACAF: Pachuca strike at the death to end Cruz Azul hopes (+video)

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on April 29, 2010

Pachuca CF are the CONCACAF Champions League winners for the fourth time in their history after a second half stoppage time winner from Edgar Benitez gave them a 1-0 win in the second leg of the final. Cruz Azul, who were going for a record extending sixth title, had won the first leg at home seven days earlier by two goals to one. The game was petering out into a goalless stalemate when Benitez struck from just inside the Cruz Azul penalty area to give Los Tuzos (The Gophers) the goal they craved and which sent the masses of Pachuca fans in the stadium into ecstasy. Not only does the victory give Pachuca their fourth continental title since 2002 but it also ensures their place in the FIFA Club World Cup which takes place at the end of the year in Abu Dhabi. Guillermo Rivarola, coach of the winning Pachuca side, said after the match “When we saw the ball hit the net, it was madness. There was tons of emotion. We all wanted to hug each other as the goal gave us the championship and the ticket to the Club World Cup. I really can’t describe it.”

See for yourself in the video below:

CONCACAF: Cruz Azul strike first in Champions League final (+video)

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on April 22, 2010
Emmanuel Villa

Emmanuel Villa scored the first goal in Cruz Azul's 2-1 victory over Pachuca in the first leg of the final

In the first leg of the all-Mexican CONCACAF Champions League final on Wednesday night. Cruz Azul, who are record champions in this event under its previous guise, have a slender 2-1 advantage to take into the return leg at the home of their opponents Pachuca, who are looking for a third title in four years.

La Maquina, as Cruz Azul are widely known, took advantage of some dreadful defending twenty minutes into the game when striker Emmanuel Villa seized on the ball after Pachuca defender Gregorio Torres miscontrolled it just ten yards outside his own penalty area. Villa’s run into the box resulted in Pachuca keeper Miguel Calero coming out to try and narrow the angle but Villa took his goal with great aplomb to give the Blues the lead. The home side didn’t have to wait long to extend their lead when a cross from the right side by Maxi Biancucchi was turned into his own goal by Pachuca’s Carlos Rodríguez clipping the ball past his own keeper at the near post. Pachuca did come back into the game after a nightmare start having the better of the chances as the first half progressed but without success on the scoring front.

The second half continued in much the same vein for the away side as they took the game to Cruz Azul in the hope of reducing the arrears and getting a foothold back into the game. They were finally rewarded in the 69th minute after Raúl Martínez’s cross found its way into the path of Damián Álvarez who, from the corner of the six-yard box, struck his shot low to halve the deficit, the ball just clipping the near post on its way in. Cruz Azul were finding it increasingly difficult to get a grip of the game from midfield as Pachuca tried to force an equalizer to level the tie. Cruz Azul may have had the advantage on the score sheet but they were to be at a numerical disadvantage for the last ten minutes of the game when Julio Domínguez was sent off for a foul on José Francisco Torres. Strangely it was La Maquina who found their urgency and created the most chances from that point on with Emmanuel Villa and Horacio Cervantes hitting the woodwork in the final minutes of the match. In the end Pachuca had to be grateful for a 2-1 defeat which they will hope to overturn in the second leg which takes place on Wednesday, April 28th. Will Cruz Azul be celebrating a record enhancing sixth title? Or will Pachuca maintain their recent continental dominance following title wins in 2007 and 2008?

First Leg HIGHLIGHTS: Cruz Azul 2-1 Pachuca C.F.


CONCACAF: Cruz Azul and Pachuca make Champions League final

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on April 8, 2010
Cruz Azul

Cruz Azul have reached their seventh CONCACAF Champions League final

It was already known that there was going to be an all-Mexican final in the CONCACAF Champions League for the second consecutive year. The suspense of the last two weeks came in finding out which of the four Mexican semi-finalists would make it to the final of North and Central America’s top club competition. After this week’s matches the lucky teams fighting it out to be continental champions in the two-legged final will be Cruz Azul and Pachuca who disposed of Pumas UNAM and Toluca respectively.

Cruz Azul, who have won this competition a record five times in its previous guise of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, have reached the final again and will want to make up for last year’s disappointment where they lost 2-0 to Atlante CF. In the first leg of this year’s semi-final a Pablo Barrera goal was all that separated the teams as Pumas went on to have the advantage for the second leg, albeit a narrow one. In the return leg los Cementeros struck back by scoring late in the first half to level the aggregate score thanks to Cristian Riveros, who took advantage of some slack defending in the box from Pumas to convert from right in front of goal. The second half remained tight until the 74th minute when Horacio Cervantes headed home from a dangerous corner kick to give Cruz Azul a 2-0 lead on the night. The floodgates were well and truly opened for the home side three minutes later when they scored a third thanks to a beautifully struck free-kick from Adrián Cortés which ended up in the top left-hand corner of the net. Rogelio Chávez and Edgar Lugo completed the rout by scoring further goals in the last six minutes of the game to give Cruz Azul a 5-1 aggregate win and a place in their seventh final.

Pachuca are the other finalists having negotiated their way past Toluca CF in what proved to be a tough semi-final. Pachuca played the first leg in Toluca but it didn’t prove such a disadvantage when their on-loan striker Darío Cvitanich was able to get on the end of a Paul Aguilar cross and go around the Toluca keeper Alfredo Talavera to turn the ball home from an acute angle to give los Tuzos (The Gophers) the lead. The home side had to wait until the 78th minute for parity to be restored when Edgar Dueñas headed home from a corner and the first leg ended in a 1-1 draw. The second leg got off to the best possible start for Pachuca who took the lead after just six minutes of the game thanks to an Edy Brambila header from five yards out, getting on the end of a beautifully delivered cross from the left by Damian Manso. Los Diablos Rojos from Toluca had a great chance to equalize not long afterwards but a cross from Carlos Esquivel found an unmarked Hector Mancilla in the six yard box with a gaping goal at his mercy but, unfortunately for him, he spurned the chance hitting it with the outside of his right foot and sending it wide. Despite this Pachuca had the better chances throughout the game and although they failed to trouble the scoresheet any further it ultimately didn’t matter as they held out to secure a 2-1 aggregate win. They now have the chance to win their third continental title in four years and fourth overall.

2009-10 CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL

1st Leg: Cruz Azul v Pachuca (21.04.10)

2nd Leg: Pachuca v Cruz Azul (28.04.10)

CONCACAF: Mexican quartet light up Champions League

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on March 30, 2010
CONCACAF Champions League logo

The logo for the CONCACAF Champions League

The CONCACAF Champions League, North and Central America’s footballing showpiece, has reached the last four stage and it’s an all-Mexican affair with the country’s domination of football in the region guaranteed to continue. The first legs of each tie are played on March 30-31 with the second legs being played one week later. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” highlights each pairing’s current form:

TOLUCA v PACHUCA

Both of these teams had tough ties to qualify from in the last round. Toluca defeated Guatemalans C.S.D. Comunicaciones by the odd goal in five over two legs whilst Toluca were further challenged by 2008 Major League Soccer champions Columbus Crew, finally edging past the Americans 5-4 on aggregate. Perhaps the hectic schedule has provided a major distraction for these teams as they are far from sure of a place in the play-offs of the current Mexican League. Toluca, who are at home in the first leg of the semi-finals, are third in Group 1 and find themselves eleven points behind leaders Guadalajara but their recent form is good having won the last two Mexican League games since defeating Comunicaciones; a 3-2 win over Real San Luis followed by a 1-0 triumph over Tigres. Pachuca are also finding it difficult to qualify for the Mexican League play-offs as they find themselves ten points behind group leaders Monterrey in fourth place in Group 2. At least their recent league form is decent having secured four points out of the last six against Club América (2:2) and C.A. Monarcas Morelia (1:0).

1st Leg: Toluca v Pachuca (30/03/10)

2nd Leg: Pachuca v Toluca (07/04/10)

PUMAS UNAM v CRUZ AZUL

Cruz Azul are the record champions in the tournament’s previous guise of the CONCACAF Champions Cup having won it five times. However the last of these triumphs came in 1997 and they are desperate to bring home the trophy after thirteen long years. Los Cementeros secured their semi-final place with a 4-0 aggregate win over Panama’s Arabe Unido and will hope to emulate the result achieved against Pumas UNAM in last season’s CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals which Cruz Azul won 2-0 over two legs. The Pumas are in the final four thanks to their 6-3 win over Hondurans C.D. Marathón and will hope to be the better of Cruz Azul this time around. In their last two Mexican League games since ensuring Champions League semi-final qualification Pumas have beaten Jaguares (2:0) and drawn with Real San Luis (0:0) whilst Cruz Azul have beaten Tigres (4:0) but lost to Estudiantes Tecos (1:2) in their most recent league game. In Group 3 of the Mexican championship the Pumas are in second spot three points behind Santos Laguna and one ahead of Cruz Azul so perhaps that’s a slight psychological advantage for Pumas going into this continental joust.

1st Leg: Pumas UNAM v Cruz Azul (31/03/10)

2nd Leg: Cruz Azul v Pumas UNAM (06/04/10)

CONCACAF: Mexicans showing the way in Champions League

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on March 19, 2010
Pachuca

Pachuca are one of four Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals

As convincing as it was predictable, four Mexican teams occupy the semi-final places in the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League after defeating opponents from four different nations in the quarter-finals. These results continue the trend set in recent years where Mexican clubs have dominated the tournament and it ensures that for the fifth year in succession the trophy will go to the footballing superpower in North and Central America.

The first quarter-final was completed on Tuesday night when defending champions Pachuca overcame the challenge of Guatemalan side Comunicaciones with a 2-1 second leg victory thanks to goals from Paul Nicolás Aguilar and Luis Montes with Rolando Fonseca replying for Comunicaciones via the penalty spot. The win meant that Pachuca won 3-2 on aggregate after the first leg, played in Guatemala one week earlier, had finished 1-1. Pachuca’s semi-final opponents will be Deportivo Toluca who overcame a tough test against Major League Soccer team Columbus Crew. After the first leg had finished 2-2 this was a topsy-turvy affair with Guillermo Barros Schelotto giving The Crew the lead on the stroke of half-time with a penalty kick. Toluca equalised just two minutes into the second half thanks to another penalty, this time scored by Héctor Mancilla and then António Naélson, known simly as Sinha, scored the first of two in the 57th minute to give Toluca the lead. Schelotto restored parity for Columbus Crew on 70 minutes but, not for the first time, they couldn’t hold on as Toluca went up the other end and scored the winner thanks to Sinha’s second goal on 72 minutes.

The other all-Mexican semi-final tie will be between Cruz Azul and UNAM Pumas who both had more comfortable wins against their quarter-final opponents. Cruz Azul, who have won this tournament a joint record five times, already had a cushion of a 1-0 lead from the first leg against Panamanian side CD Arabe Unido before putting the game to the sword with an easy 3-0 return leg victory at home thanks to goals from Javier Orozco (2) and César Villaluz to complete a convincing 4-0 aggregate win. Honduran champions Club Deportivo Marathón did win their first leg against UNAM Pumas 2-0 thanks to two penalties being converted by Walter Martínez and Carlos Mejía. However the Mexicans proved in last night’s second leg that the competition is a Marathón rather than a sprint (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!) by hammering the Hondurans 6-1, including a brace apiece for Ismael Íñiguez and Francisco Palencia, therefore completing a 6-3 victory over the two legs.

SEMI-FINALS (dates to be decided)

UNAM Pumas v Cruz Azul

Deportivo Toluca v Pachuca

* – Teams on the left are at home in the first leg

CONCACAF Champions League: Quarter-Final Preview

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on March 9, 2010
Concacaf Champions Cup

Atlante CF captain Federico Vilar lifts the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Who will win the 2009-10 edition?

North and Central America’s elite club competition continues after a four month break with Mexican clubs threatening to continue their dominance of the tournament. Mexican clubs account for the last four winners of the competition and with half of the remaining eight teams in the quarter-final stage coming from the regional footballing superpower the dominance is expected to continue into this year. However there are four other teams ready to challenge this recent monopoly of the tournament with one team each from the USA, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama ready to give the Mexicans a run for their money. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals:

CSD COMUNICACIONES (Guatemala) v C.F. PACHUCA (Mexico)

Pachuca will wish to continue their recent record in this tournament having been triumphant in 2002, 2007 and 2008. They are expected to get through against 1978 champions Comunicaciones who are currently second in their domestic league, but who haven’t got the strength in depth of their more illustrious opponents. In saying that Comunicaciones can take heart in the fact that Pachuca have lost four of their nine matches in the current Mexican Clausura championship campaign and the Guatemalans did rest some players this weekend ahead of tonight’s clash. In the group stage Pachuca finished top of Group A by a comfortable five point margin from Panamanian side CD Arabe Unido whilst Comunicaciones finished second in Group D four points behind UNAM Pumas from Mexico.

COLUMBUS CREW (United States) v DEPORTIVO TOLUCA (Mexico)

Columbus Crew are playing in this competition for the third time in their history and will want to get past their previous best finish of a quarter-final place in the 2003 Champions Cup (as it was then called) against Mexican side Morelia. With the new MLS season not due to start for at least another few weeks the Americans will relish all the match practice they can get. Deportivo Toluca, on the other hand, are well into the Mexican Clausura season but they, like Pachuca, haven’t set the world alight with their recent form. In the group stage the Mexicans finished top of a very tight Group B finishing two and three points ahead of Hondurans C.D. Marathón and MLS side D.C. United respectively. Columbus Crew finished a distant second in Group C eight points behind Cruz Azul.

C.D. MARATHÓN (Honduras) v PUMAS de la  UNAM (Mexico)

UNAM were three times champions of the old CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1980, 1982 and 1989 but were defeated finalists as recently as 2005. The Pumas are going well in their domestic Clausura championship group and hope that they can finally experience some continental glory for the first time in a generation. They are expected to get past their opponents who are lying eighth in the Honduran league but who have been resting players ready for the continuation of this tournament. Having won the Torneo Apertura (Opening championship) before Christmas Marathón could afford to rest on their domestic laurels. They just about qualified from Group B having beaten American capital side D.C. United by a single point in the group phase while Pumas had a slightly easier progression with a four point advantage in first place over fellow quarter-finalists Comunicaciones.

ARABE UNIDO (Panama) v CRUZ AZUL (Mexico)

Joint record champions Cruz Azul have won this tournament in its former guise of the Champions Cup five times (1969, 1970, 1971, 1996, 1997) but were losing finalists last season against Mexican rivals Atlante C.F. (see picture). Cruz Azul also qualified for the Copa Libertadores final in 2001 but were unlucky to lose to Argentinian giants Boca Juniors on penalties after the two-legged final had finished 1-1. The Mexicans were the only team in all four groups to qualify for the quarter-finals with a 100% record and are firm favourites to get through to the final four against an Arabe Unido side who currently lie sixth in a very tight domestic league only two points behind championship leaders Chepo F.C. Arabe Unido finished three points ahead of US side Houston Dynamo in second place from Group A to get to this stage.