The Champions League may have more glitz and glamour, but the Copa Libertadores is a battle like no other. Here's a definitive guide to the tournament's big names...
“Put him on the floor now! NOW! NOW! NOW!” “Stick your finger up his ass, let’s see this motherfucker cry.” “Break his leg if you have to! What are you afraid of?” “Fucking crap, I told you to use your elbows on his face!” Those are some of the instructions head coaches have given in recent years on the sidelines of big matches of the Libertadores Cup, South America’s most prestigious club tournament. The 2013 edition is already underway.
Europeans think the Champions League is tougher because of the great teams, the famous players and all the wealthy clubs involved. Try sending Barcelona 5,000 meters above sea level in inner Bolivia to play tiki-taka on a lame pitch with a biased referee and still beat a team of indigenous Bolivians. Give Manchester United the chance to play at 35 Celsius degrees at night in Colombia or Ecuador. These are the prospects that dominant Brazilian, Argentinian, Uruguayan and Chilean clubs have to face.
Ask any supporter of world champions Corinthians what was bigger: beating Chelsea in Japan or edging traditional Boca Juniors to lift the South American Cup six months earlier, and you’ll always get the same response. The FIFA Club World Cup is bigger in South America than it is in Europe, but there is no doubt about what is more important.
Big players and starlets alike will play this tournament. Most of them are Brazilian, but there are Argentinians, Chileans and Uruguayans in the scout list. Those who don’t get broken legs could potentially well be in Europe in the next season. Others might stay in South America since the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil.
Defending champions Corinthians have former AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato, but the one to keep an eye on is midfielder Paulinho. Inter Milan hves already offered £12 million for him, the same money the Brazilians paid for their star striker. Corinthians said no. At 24, his play style is comparable tothat of Chelsea’s Ramires. It is likely Paulinho will be in the 2014 World Cup. Peruvian Paolo Guerrero, formerly of Bayern Munich is another star name in the squad.
Their main rivals for the title seem to be Brazilian champions Fluminense. Former Chelsea, Barcelona and Portugal midfielder Deco no longer shines, but the Carioca team can count on Brazil striker Fred and promising winger Wellington Nem. At 20, he is well adapted to the harsh conditions of the Libertadores Cup and certainly knows how to assist his teammates. Former Liverpool reserve keeper Diego Cavalieri is also present, having a far better time that he did in England.
Brazilian side Gremio have just taken Chile’s Eduardo Vargas from Napoli. At 23 years of age, he had trouble in Italy, constantly fighting Edison Cavani for a place in the starting line-up, but things might improve for him in South America. His team has a defensive tradition that is honoured by 20-year-old Fernando, who fiercely protects the midfield.
Boca Juniors don’t have Juan Roman Riquelme anymore, but they have found a gem in Leandro Paredes. He is only 18 and his flair is alike that of his idol’s. Runner-ups last year, the Argentinians don’t look as strong this time around, but their defence seems more stable thanks to 24-year-old Guillermo Burdisso, who took over after icon Rolando Schiavi retired after a dreadful 2012. Paredes needs more time, but Burdisso is ready to meet his brother Nicolas in Europe.
For some time the best team in Argentina has been Velez Sarsfield. They have the most interesting player outside Brazil, in classy 21-year-old striker Facundo Ferreyra. He’s just shy of 6 feet tall, and can get up for the header as well as shoot from long distances. Velez also has 20-year-old Gino Peruzzi, probably the most talented right-winger in South American football today.
As the stars and starlets list shows, there aren’t many creative players among the top picks for European clubs to watch. Most of them are either strikers or defensive footballers. If scouts want to make a bet, they should take a look at how 23-year-old Paulo Henrique Ganso does at Sao Paulo. After many injuries at Santos, his career looks to be back on track. Atletico Mineiro’s Bernard, who plays both as a winger and as a midfielder, is also worth a peek.
The group stage rarely brings major upsets. The heat of the Libertadores really comes in the play-offs. It is a very intense and short competition; it all will be over in July. If you are into brutal football, learn at least a couple of insults in Spanish and Portuguese.They will come in handy.
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