With three teams having already clinched their berths in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, former Mexican World Cup hero and confederation Executive Director for Strategic Alliance Enrique Borja thinks there are some intriguing possibilities for the final round of the Group Stage.
Group C was seen by many before the Group Stage as the toughest, and now it's down to Saprissa and Marathon. The last week will have Saprissa at already eliminated Seattle, and Marathon at home against already clinched Monterrey. In your opinion, who has the more difficult game?
Group C has become complicated when it comes to second place. Monterrey has 13 points and will be fine with any result in the sixth round. But an interesting battle has developed between the two teams that are looking to qualify in second. They're Saprissa and Marathon. Marathon will host Monterrey and being at home could give them some type of advantage. At the same time, If Monterrey wins or loses, it will remain in first.
That could be something that permits Marathon to be able to fight for the three points. On the one hand, Saprissa has to visit a Seattle team that just won its first game and logically it wants to finish the tournament on a good note. But Saprissa will be playing with qualification on the line. I think that both games are going to be very interesting for distinct reasons. One team is home and one team is away and I think both teams will have to do their part. I hope they do it and both games are going to be attractive for the fans.
Santos would appear to be all but through, leading Group B by a point and having its last game against Municipal at home. Do you think Columbus also should get through, even though it might need a win in Trinidad to be absolutely certain?
A lot of things can happen in Group B, including some things that haven't happened in previous tournaments. Santos is hosting Municipal and therefore has the advantage of being at home. With a win or tie they will be fine. But if Santos loses, giving Municipal 11 points, then Columbus, who travels to face Joe Public, wins, it could reach 12 points and be on top. If Columbus doesn't win, everything could get more complicated for them.
If Municipal defeats Santos and Columbus win, Santos would be the team that's eliminated. Santos, on its home field, is not going to want Municipal to win. It's going to be a tough game. Columbus, although they will be away, is facing a team that hasn't taken too many points. But I think it's a group where anything could happen -- from a Mexican team being eliminated and a team from the U.S and Guatemala getting through. This would be very attractive for the tournament. It would be very interesting, but I think Municipal will have a difficult time getting a good result. However, we know that soccer always provides surprises.
Toluca is sitting in third place in Group D behind Olimpia and the Puerto Rico Islanders. How much of a surprise is that, and how much trouble is the Mexican side in considering they've lost two of its last three?
The case of Toluca is more complicated, and Group D has turned in to the toughest group. In the group, Olimpia leads Toluca by three points. Toluca is facing FAS, the team with the fewest points, and will obviously look to gain a result that will give it 10 points. But if the Islanders can beat Olimpia, they would reach 11 points and second place would be between Toluca and Olimpia. I think that Toluca has a game - if you look at everything - that is winnable. They have everything that it takes to win as you are talking about the Mexican champion. On the other hand, Olimpia and the Islanders are playing in Honduras in what could be a historic result in the Champions League.
How shocking was the Puerto Rico Islanders' victory over Toluca? Considering Toluca has won both of its games at home so far and not surrendered a goal, and it's hosting FAS in its final game, what are the Islanders' chances of getting a win in Honduras, or is Olimpia pretty much through?
I was at the game between the Islanders and Toluca, and we first saw Toluca go up early 2-0. Puerto Rico tied it, and as the final minute came -- and then injury time, that's when the Islanders score the third goal. The most important thing is that game wasn't played on a wet field, there weren't weather problems, and it had all the elements that let the teams battle it out.
Toluca also had practically all its starters while the Islanders achieved the comeback playing good soccer. We are not talking about mistakes Toluca made, mistakes by the referee or some other thing. The game was back-and-forth, both teams could have won and, for Puerto Rico to have come back made the game, for me, into the most exciting and best played game that we have seen. If the Islanders beat Olimpia, it would be practically an equal achievement to beating Toluca. You have to consider it.
Anything else surprise you heading into the final round of the Group Stage?
There have been a number of surprise results which have made the tournament very interesting. Precisely in this sixth round there could be a number of changes in the first and second places. There are only three teams already qualified and five more will advance. We've seen on TV or in the stadiums, great plays and exciting matches. I think more or more the players are getting a feel for the tournament and they're taking advantage of it. Why? Because it offers an increase level of competition.
Another thing is that three of the four Mexican teams may need to win their matches to advance to the next round, or to avoid having to face another Mexican team in the next round. In Group A, Columbus can advance but so can Municipal. The same with Olimpia and the Islanders. The sixth round is extremely important and the excitement is growing.
A news story just came out in Mexico regarding Chuletita Orozco. He began to make his name in the tournament. He wasn't even a starter in his team. He became a starter in the Champions League and became a regular starter for Cruz Azul. Now he's a national team player and he was just named, alongside "Chicharito" Hernández as one of the top five goal scorers in the world by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics). Therefore the players are taking advantage of the tournament by scoring or doing important things and people are taking notice.