Saturday 29 January 2022, 10:00

Delgado, Sanchez back Monterrey to enjoy historic campaign

  • Cesar Delgado and Nicolas Sanchez are Monterrey legends

  • They discuss their FIFA Club World Cup experiences

  • Both believe Los Rayados will make history at UAE 2021

There are few teams on the planet as familiar with the FIFA Club World Cup™ as Monterrey. The Mexicans’ upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi will, after all, be their fifth appearance in the tournament, a CONCACAF record. Should they beat Al Ahly in their opening match, they will also move to third on the list of clubs who have played most Club World Cup games. The Mexican club has its sights set a little higher than that this year, however. They want nothing less than a place in the final for the very first time. Among the players who have figured large in Monterrey’s long-running association with the competition is Cesar Delgado. With five goals, he is the third-highest all-time marksman in the Club World Cup, having finished joint-top scorer at Japan 2012. Delgado trails only Cristiano Ronaldo (seven goals) and Gareth Bale (six), and is level with another two superstars. “When I see my name up there with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi it just seems too strange to me,” Delgado told FIFA. “It’s hard to comprehend, but I’m so proud of it.”

Cesar Delgado celebrates scoring for Monterrey at Japan 2012

Though Delgado left Monterrey in 2015, he has not been forgotten by the fans, which is why they has invited him to the United Arab Emirates as their ambassador, along with fellow club legend Nicolas Sanchez. “I’m delighted to be an ambassador for Monterrey,” Sanchez told FIFA. The Argentinian is every inch a Rayados hero, having scored both goals in their defeat of arch-rivals Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2019. “It was the greatest moment of my life,” said the former centre-half, who went on to play at Qatar 2019. Explaining what he believes is the secret to a successful tournament, he said: “The trick is to enjoy it and not let the pressure get to you.”

Sanchez had a game to remember when Monterrey almost took Liverpool to extra-time in the 2019 semi-finals. “We didn’t put pressure on ourselves that night,” he recalled. “We knew we were up against the best team in Europe, but we also knew we could compete. “We never felt they’d walk all over us. We gave as good as we got. It wasn’t enough, but we had Liverpool on their knees until the end of the game.” Delgado’s Club World Cup story also features a meeting with a European giant. In 2012, he was part of the Monterrey side that took on Chelsea, who will again be representing UEFA at this year’s competition. Los Rayados struggled on that occasion, however, and went down to a 3-1 defeat. “We competed and we acquitted ourselves well, but they had the physical edge and that was reflected in the result,” he said.

Monterrey’s Cesar Delgado holds of Chelsea’s Ashley Cole during the Japan 2012 semi-finals

Delgado is, however, predicting a different outcome this year. “Monterrey are up there with the European teams,” he said. “They’ve got experienced international players. They’re a very strong side and they could have a great tournament. Mexican football is on the up and Monterrey have a fantastic squad, the best in the country.” Monterrey could find themselves in an unfamiliar situation in Abu Dhabi: facing a South American side in the semi-finals, which would be a first for the club. To make that happen, they have to beat Al Ahly. Los Rayados know the Red Devils well, having faced and beaten them twice before. “The Brazilian clubs are pretty close to the Europeans and they’ve got a lot of top players, but they’re not from another planet,” said Sanchez.

Delgado is even more bold about Monterrey’s chances: “If you’re up against a South American team, you’ve got more of a chance of making the final. It’s going to be tough, but opponents like them hold no surprises for Mexican teams. It’s a great opportunity and I feel Los Rayados can make the final.” One thing in Monterrey’s favour is that a large percentage of the squad was on duty at Qatar 2019. And while that squad is a strong one, Delgado and Sanchez believe that there are two players who stand out: Rogelio Funes Mori and Maximiliano Meza, who are currently pursuing international careers with Mexico and Argentina respectively. “Meza is one of those players who gets hold of the ball when the team needs him too,” said Sanchez, a former team-mate of the midfielder’s. “I really rate him and Rodolfo Pizarro.”

Monterrey’s Nico Gonzalez and Liverpool’s Mo Salah compete for possession at Qatar 2019

For his part, Delgado is an admirer of Monterrey's chief goal threat: “Funes Mori can score from anywhere. He’s a threat inside and outside the box and he’s a great striker.” Delgado and Sanchez will not be seeing the sights when they travel to Abu Dhabi. Like the Rayados players, they want to return to Mexico with the trophy. “Third place in 2019 was amazing and now the way is open to improve on that,” said Sanchez. “It’s a question of taking on the European team and going for the win.” Rounding things off, Delgado said: “The squad has the quality to impress and, why not, go on and win it.”