Monterrey start defence without Suazo

MEXICO CITY - Champions Monterrey will defend their Mexican league title without top-scoring Chile striker Humberto Suazo in the Clausura championship that kicks off on Saturday.

Suazo, expected to lead Chile's attack at the World Cup in South Africa, has moved to Real Zaragoza during a quiet mid-season break in which only one team were busy in the player market.

Cruz Azul, still looking for a first title since 1997 after they lost the Apertura championship final to Monterrey last month, recruited four players including Argentine midfielder Christian Gimenez and Brazilian Edcarlos Conceicao.

"In any big club, like Cruz Azul, there will be pressure, mainly because you're a newcomer and because it's been a long time without a title," Conceicao told reporters.

A significant number of the championship's leading players like forwards Salvador Cabanas of Paraguay and Chile's Hector Mancilla will not feature for the whole duration of the championship if, as expected, they join their countries preparing for the World Cup in the final third of the competition.

Argentine Federico Vilar, captain of CONCACAF champions Atlante who took part in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi last month, could be called up by Diego Maradona as one of his goalkeepers at the World Cup.

Cruz Azul, who were favourites for the Apertura title, kick off with a tough visit to Chiapas.

Monterrey face Indios of Ciudad Juarez, the northern city plagued by drug runners, whose team will be fighting to avoid relegation. They have a low average in the system that computes their points over two seasons or four championships.

"Monterrey have two tasks, to work hard and forget the past, look ahead. We must show that we really want to be double champions," said Apertura title-winning coach Victor Vucetich.