Friday 15 April 2016, 15:45

Benedetto: We've got unfinished business

Sidelined by a long and troublesome injury since November 2015, Dario Benedetto was only too happy to get back to scoring ways against Tijuana last Saturday. Receiving possession inside the box, the America striker walked the ball round his marker and the goalkeeper before coolly sliding it into an empty net. After a difficult few months in which patience has been his best ally, he could be forgiven for taking his time over his first goal back.

“I’m pleased to have scored again,” Benedetto told in an exclusive interview, reflecting on the goal. “I had an injury I just couldn’t shake off, but luckily I’m 100-per cent fit now. I have to get used to the pace of games again, but you only achieve that by playing. I’m aware that we’re exposed to all types of injuries. You can prepare and train so that you don’t get them, but they’re always lurking. And when they come, you have to work hard and focus on recovering from them as soon as possible.”

Glory night Benedetto’s return to the scoresheet could not have come at a better time, with his side just a few days away from another CONCACAF Champions League final, a year on from their last, in which he played a starring role with a second-leg hat-trick against Montreal Impact. His nose for goal, powerful shooting and elusiveness played a crucial part in America qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015.

“It was an unforgettable night,” recalled the smiling 25-year-old, who hails from Berazategui, Argentina. “We’d just drawn at home against a side that played really good football. We were a goal down at half-time in the return, but we never let our heads drop. We always fight to try and win games, and that night was no exception. I was able to score three goals, and they’re moments that will stay with me forever.”

We learned a lot of lessons from the defeat in Japan. We’ve got some unfinished business there.

That 5-3 aggregate win over the Canadians secured America a place in Japan, though their trip was short lived, with China PR’s Guangzhou Evergrande knocking them out in their first game. Far from letting the experience get them down, however, the Mexican side promptly set about the task of securing their return to Japan, their determination to restore their wounded pride shining through in this season’s Champions League.

“We learned a lot of lessons from the defeat in Japan,” said the striker, who is 5’10 (1.78m) tall. “We’ve got some unfinished business there. We went to the Club World Cup with a goal, and things didn’t go the way we’d planned. Now we have the chance to fight to go back there. Before we can do that though, we have to face a side that plays really good football too."

Lessons learned That side is Tigres, habitual contenders on the Mexican scene in recent years and a team intent on quashing America’s hopes of atoning for last year’s early exit, though Benedetto prefers to focus on his own team’s virtues rather than those of the opposition.

“We won’t be focusing on their strong points very much,” he explained. “We’ll analyse the moves that might come up, but we’ll try to focus more on what we do and to play our usual game. It’s going to be a long, hard match, between two well-organised sides. I hope we can come away with a good result.”

Tigres will host the first leg in Monterrey, with the ticket to Japan 2016 being decided at the legendary Estadio Azteca, the place Las Águilas call home. “Playing at the Azteca means an awful lot to us,” said Benedetto. “We know how difficult a place it can be for opposing sides. The fans always turn out in force. We hear them when they cheer us on and that puts pressure on the opposition. But in this case, and quite apart from the fact we’ll have home advantage, it’s up to us on the pitch to play and we can’t afford to be overconfident.”

Reinforcing his point, he added: “You have to win finals any way you can. It’s going to be a great game, and I think that if we can keep doing what we’ve been doing, things will work out for us and we’ll make it. It’s a chance for us to set the record straight, and I hope we can get the job done.”