Cruz: Mexico working to close gap on elite

ABU DHABI - Mexican football must make major investments in youth schemes to close the gap with the big football nations, Atlante coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz said at the Club World Cup.

CONCACAF champions Atlante took a major step by reaching the semi-finals of the tournament in the United Arab Emirates before losing to favourites Barcelona.

"You can't compare the two squads. They are superior to us in all aspects and rubbing shoulders with the greats of world football doesn't happen too often," Cruz said in an interview.

Cruz talked to Reuters before Atlante's last practice for the third place play-off against Asian champions Pohang Steelers of South Korea, the curtain-raiser on Saturday to the final between Barcelona and Estudiantes of Argentina.

"Evidently, we are below the Spanish Liga, the English league, the Italian, which are the strongest in the world but I believe we're working well in Mexico to slowly shorten the distance...I think if we carry on like this in a few years we can be more competitive."

Mexico has gained recognition in recent decades with good World Cup performances and the growth of the country's league, attracting some of the best players in Latin America.

"There must be teams in Mexico with the purchasing power which we don't have at present but teams, apart from acquiring great players, can also be built with good investments in grass roots," said Cruz, whose club, founded in 1916, is one of the oldest in Mexico.


He believes Mexican teams must increase the size of their players, one of whom is nicknamed "Hobbit".

"Tactically we have improved a lot but after you stand next to (Barcelona's 1.95-metre Zlatan) Ibrahimovic, who's half a body taller, it's a disadvantage."

Atlante have moved home several times in their 93 years, largely in an around the capital, before making their last settlement two years ago in the Caribbean resort city of Cancun.

They won the Mexican league championship straight away and Cruz, an amiable 42-year-old in his second spell in charge, said the move had been a great success.

"I don't think anyone would have bet on it being so good with two championships and (taking part in) a Club World Cup in two years," he said.

"It's something other, bigger teams in Mexico with greater resources would love to have.

"We have made the very best of our resources, human and financial. It had been a long time since Atlante had been in a position of privilege lime this, like playing a Club World Cup semi-final against Barcelona."