With their 3-1 overtime win against Sydney Wanderers, Cruz Azul earned the right (and privilege) to play against Real Madrid in the Club World Cup. Most of you probably know nothing about Cruz Azul, and honestly no one can blame you, so here's your scouting report on these guys to get you ready for Los Blancos' debut in their last competition of the year.
Let's start by saying Cruz Azul, one of the four most popular teams in Mexico, are a terrible team right now. They've had an awful 2014, but they made the Club World Cup because the Concachampions, the tournament that decides the CONCACAF representative, features some of the worst football you'll ever see and, well, someone's got to win it.
If you guys don't know, and there's really no reason for most you to know this, the Liga MX, the Mexican league tournament, is played twice a year. 17 games, and then the playoffs. Out of 18 teams, most them terrible, eight make the playoffs (some of those also bad). Trust me when I tell you that you have to be really bad to not finish in the top either. Well, Cruz Azul was really, really bad this past season. They finished in 13th place, with just 21 points and 16 goals in 17 games, with a ridiculous +1 goal differential. Sounds scary, right? It is. To their fans, at least.
As bad as they were, Cruz Azul actually has a few talented players, starting with GK Jesús Corona, Guillermo Ochoa's sub in Brazil 2014. He was a key player for Mexico in the 2012 London Olympics team that beat Neymar's Brazil in the final to win the gold medal. Ochoa took his spot for the World Cup, but Corona was more than ready to start and play at a high level. He's a very complete GK, with great reflexes and aerial skills, capable of making ridiculous saves to keep his team alive. He might put up a good fight against Real Madrid.
Cruz Azul's defence was by far their best unit this past season. It was led by Francisco El Maza Rodríguez, a guy that actually started in all four games for Mexico of the past World Cup (his third WC). He played for PSV Eindhoven for three years (2008-2011) at a high level, and also played one year at Stuttgart. He's good in the air, and his positioning and anticipation are also good, but he struggles against fast players. He also thinks he's super skilled with the ball, and loves to try some unnecessary fancy passes that often lead to disaster for his own team.
At LB and RB, they will surely start Fausto Pinto and Gerardo Flores. Pinto is a very average player these days. He's solid at best while defending, and he can't contribute as an attacker. Flores is way more complete. He defends better and he's a guy that often tries to attack, but we won't see a lot of that against Los Blancos since he'll have his hands full trying to handle Marcelo, Ronaldo and whoever takes that left side.
At midfield, we'll see a lot of team captain Gerardo Torrado. He's a defensive midfielder way past his prime. He's slow, he can't recover, he can't pass and he loves to tackle players. It's almost guaranteed that he'll see a yellow card at the very least.
Then we have Cruz Azul's most talented player: Marco Fabián, an attacking midfielder who also won the gold medal in London. Chivas, his former team, supposedly rejected an offer from Bayern Munich in 2012. When focused (and that doesn't happen that often), he puts his above average technique and skills to good use. He can dribble, cross and he definitely can shoot well. Problem for him is, a lot of people see him as a lazy player who doesn't care half of the time. However, at 25 years old, he'll try to have a huge impact in the Club World Cup to draw some attention from European teams. Expect him to try to do a lot by himself, and to take more than a few chances to challenge Iker Casillas from outside the box.
Right next to him is Christian Chaco Giménez. He's very intense, and as the heart and brain of Cruz Azul, he'll try to contribute in any way he can. Like Fabian, he can pass, cross and shoot well from long distances, but he's way smarter and more creative. He's way past his prime though, so he might not be able to keep up with Real Madrid's intensity.
Besides Corona and Rodríguez, there's also another World Cup player on Cruz Azul's roster, and that's Joao Rojas. The Ecuadorian winger is barely an above average player in Mexico, but he stood out in the Liga MX thanks to his speed, dribbling and crossing skills. He wasn't spectacular by any means, but he found ways to be effective.
Now, we have their strikers, and boy it's really bad for Cruz Azul, starting with Mariano Pavone. First, El Tanque (The Tank) struggles mightily in pretty much every single thing he tries to do. He's slow, he can't dribble, he's not good with the ball at his feet, he can't get open and, for someone called The Tank, he really isn't that strong. At least he's slow, right? Second, and this is the absolute worst thing for him: he rarely scores. In his last 50 league games, he has just scored 14 goals, which is why most Cruz Azul fans want him gone.
Next we have Mauro Formica. He's overall better than Pavone, but that doesn't mean a lot. He's way more useful that Pavone with and without the ball. He's faster and has better technique, but he also struggles a lot to score (11 goals in 33 games). With two strikers as ineffective as these two, it's no wonder why Cruz Azul failed to score in four games, and scored just one goal in seven different games this past season.
Finally, we get to their coach, Luis Fernando Tena. He likes good defending and tactical order. He's very conservative and since he knows his team doesn't stand a chance against Real Madrid, he'll probably just try to park the bus and wait for the best. Cruz Azul's preferred formation has been the 4-4-2, but who knows what they might use against Real Madrid.
There you go. That's Cruz Azul. They're a mediocre team even for Mexican standards. They struggle mightily to score, and while their defence was their best unit, it won't be able to stop Real Madrid for long. This should be a fairly comfortable game for Carlo Ancelotti's men.