By Dan Price
America ran out 2-1 winners over Congolese African champions TP Mazembe to claim fifth place at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
The result helps the Mexico City outfit to put a disastrous week behind them after their shock loss to Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande in Sunday morning’s quarter-final – a game in which America’s Darwin Quintero and Rubens Sambueza almost came to blows.
Dario Benedetto gave America the lead after 19 minutes, as the Argentine got on the end of Paul Aguilar cross and headed home. It was his last action in the match, as moments later he left the field on a stretcher.
His replacement Martin Zuniga wasted no time in getting up to speed, as just nine minutes after coming on he scrambled home America’s second. Mazembe defender Bope Bokadi made a mess of clearing Oswaldo Martinez’s cross, and the 22-year-old Mexican was on hand to tap home from point blank range.
Only after falling two goals behind did the African side begin to stir. Patient Mwepu's smashed a venomous 35 yard strike off the woodwork, and America keeper Moises Munoz was forced into a fine save as he turned Samatta Mbwana's free-kick over the bar.
They got their rewards for their pressing on the stroke of half-time. Mbwana fired a shot straight Moises, but the veteran stopper failed to hold it and Rainford Kalaba tucked in the rebound.
America restored their domination of the game for the majority of the second half, and held out against some late Mazembe pressure to walk away with a 2-1 win.
The tournament wasn’t supposed to end like this for America, who had dreams of a semi-final game against European giants Barcelona.
Their failure continues a worrying trend of Mexican sides underperforming in the competition; Monterrey were twice beaten by considerably weaker sides in the quarter-final stage in 2011 and 2013, while Pachuca were beaten by Mazembe themselves in the quarters in 2010.
America will now return to Mexico in a bid to patch themselves up ahead of the start of the Clausura, which is only three weeks away. Rumours of club president Ricardo Peláez forcing manager Ignacio Ambriz to make substitutions, a painful Liguilla semi-final loss to Pumas UNAM, and the Quintero-Sambueza fight will all be high on the agenda.
America start the Clausura on Saturday 9th January with a home tie against Puebla.