YOKOHAMA // Today's first semi-final at the Fifa Club World Cup 2008 in Tokyo's National Stadium is an all Spanish-speaking affair as South American champions Liga Deportivo Universitaria de Quito (Ecuador) meet Central and North American champions Pachuca (Mexico).
'Los Albos' may be the biggest team in Ecuador and responsible for many of the players who played in the 2006 World Cup, but they surprised many by becoming the first Ecuadorean club to win the Copa Libertadores. They did it the hard way, overcoming tough opponents like Argentina's San Lorenzo and Estudiantes before defeating Brazilian favourites Fluminense in the final. An excellent team spirit and the inspired management of Edgardo Bauza is their strength. Among their players is the former Southampton striker Agustin Delgado, 34.
"We're taking things one step at a time," offered Quito goalkeeper Jose Francisco Cevallos. "Pachuca are a tough team with some good individuals. "If we stay focused and work hard then we'll win the game. Only then can we start dreaming about winning the final." Quito have form on their side against Mexican opponents having beaten America in the last four of the Copa Libertadores. They start as favourites against a Pachuca side who came from 2-0 down to beat African champions Al Ahly 4-2 in Saturday's quarter-final.
Appearing in the competition for the second year running, Los Tuzos made up for the disappointment of losing out to Tunisian outfit Etoile Sportive du Sahel in the last eight a year ago. Their star is midfielder Christian Gimenez, an Argentine free-kick specialist who scored twice against the Egyptians, and they are hoping to become the first team from outside Europe and South America to reach the final of the competition since it began in 2000.
"Everything is new for us from now on," said Gimenez. "The first game was important because it allowed us to get over our nerves, but things will be different against Quito. "Our aim is to beat everyone and win the title and we are all dreaming about reaching the final." "Quito have lost two of their most important players in Enrique Vera and Joffre Guerron, but they are still a very compact unit. They've held on to the core of the team that won the Copa Libertadores and this is bound to be a very tough game for us."
Bruno Marioni, one of three Argentinians in the Pachuca attack, agreed: "Liga are formidable rivals and to give ourselves a chance of winning we have to try and repeat what we did in the second half of our opening match." "We can hardly wait to come up against the Copa Libertadores winners," added the Pachuca coach Enrique Meza. "We're going to go toe-to-toe with them and may the best team win. We never lose our self-belief and we never stop battling."
At stake is a place in Sunday's final against Manchester United or Gamba Osaka. firstname.lastname@example.org