Club America’s potential match-up with European Champions Real Madrid had dominated discussion in recent weeks. Now, here we are as las Aguilas get ready to take on Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Here is what to watch for in America’s Club World Cup semifinal clash with Real Madrid.
What to watch for:
Shutting down Cristiano Ronaldo - It goes without saying, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time. If you disagree, then you have to at least consider him as one of the greatest goalscorers. The Portuguese forward won his fourth Ballon d'Or on Monday, and while he isn’t getting any younger, he still finds ways to get on the scoresheet.
Typically, the nature of Club America’s gameplan is to focus on constructing play from the back. Here, they might have no choice but to arrive with a cautious defensive-minded approach. Almost inevitably, Ronaldo will find ways to get in between lines, something Club America have struggled with all season, and when he gets tired of that, he likes to race onto floated crosses from the wing.
In short, Club America’s defenders will have to be at their best or it will be a long night in Yokohama.
Injured players returning for America - It was far from a vintage Aguilas display against Jeonbuk Motors, and there were some nervous moments, particularly at the back. However, if Club America have been exploited both in front of and behind their defensive line it is because of their lack of midfielders. William da Silva has been rather handy, but with Osvaldo Martinez underwhelming and Rubens Sambueza and Renato Ibarra struggling with injuries, coach Ricardo La Volpe has found himself shorthanded in that part of the field.
Fortunately, Sambueza and Ibarra look to be back in full training. As a creative source, Sambu is the kind of player that can change America’s attacking play entirely, and while many tend to focus on Ibarra’s incredible speed on the ball, his tracking back also gives las Aguilas a significant boost defensively.
Edson Alvarez’s turn to shine? - It is arguable the Club World Cup is just another glorified friendly tournament, but at least for one Mexican player, it was their launch to stardom. Jesus Manuel “Tecatito” Corona left such a good impression in the 2012 Club World Cup that it earned him a move to FC Twente in the Netherlands.
Like Corona against Chelsea, Edson Alvarez can enhance his reputation with a good outing against Real Madrid. The defender has been the biggest beneficiary of La Volpe’s arrival, and while his performance against Jeonbuk was rather flat, the 19-year-old will presumably start at sweeper again versus “Los Blancos”.
Alvarez is unusually good with the ball, and in a time where Mexico national team coach Juan Carlos Osorio has tried to make defenders like Nestor Araujo constructive forces at the back, this youngster seems to have the necessary skill-set.
Of course, a defender’s first job is to defend. Technical as he may be, if he can rise to the occasion defensively against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric, there will no doubt be a number of European scouts flooding to the Estadio Azteca.