Swine flu plays havoc with Copa Libertadores
The group phase of the Copa Libertadores has come to an end - and two of the results have left the South American Federation with a problem to solve.
By the skin of their teeth, two Mexican sides made it through to the knockout stages.
Chivas Guadalajara needed a draw away to Everton of Chile. They were hanging on grimly at the end, but got the 1-1 they needed.
The qualification of San Luis was more improbable. They had to win away to group winners Libertad of Paraguay, hope that Universitario of Peru lost their game, and make up a difference of four goals.
The matches were played simultaneously, and though they were beaten 2-0 in Argentina, the Peruvians went into stoppage time considering themselves safe. San Luis were ahead, but only by one goal. The Mexicans' second, decisive strike came right on the final whistle...
In theory the Mexican teams are at home this week when the knock out stage gets under way. San Luis take on Nacional of Uruguay while Chivas face Brazil's Sao Paulo. The games were scheduled for Wednesday. But the question was where?
The swine flu outbreak has ruled out Mexico.
Last Thursday the website of the South American federation (Comnebol) announced they would take place in Bogota, the capital of Colombia.
This was after consultation with the local FA - but without first gaining the agreement of the local authorities.
Fearing proliferation of the disease, Bogota council blocked the move, and the website announcement was quietly removed.
Friday was a busy day as a replacement was sought. Chile was lined up - it had accepted the Chivas team for last week's group game, surely it could be relied upon once more? No, it couldn't. Local authorities there too blocked the move.
With South American enjoying a holiday weekend, Conmebol found itself with no option - it postponed the games involving the Mexican sides for one week to give time for a solution to be found.
This puts a strain on the calendar. Unlike the Champions League, the Libertadores is crammed into a few months.
This year's is due to end on 8 July. Prolonging it could cause problems in some countries with players' holidays or contracts.
There is a three week gap between the quarter and the semi finals at the start of June, when a pause is taken for two rounds of World Cup qualification.
Perhaps time could be made up there, though it might be awkward for those players who also figure for their national teams.
One idea which has been floated is that the two Mexican sides should meet each other at this stage.
This, however, interferes with the integrity of the competition. The idea of the draw is that at this point the eight group winners meet the eight runners up.
Chivas and San Luis both came second. Nacional and Sao Paulo won their groups, and would justifiably feel aggrieved at having to face each other so early in the competition.
The two are also unlikely to be pleased with another idea in circulation - that their games against the Mexicans take place in the United States. This is a vast journey from Uruguay and the south east of Brazil.
It could be, then , that Nacional and Sao Paulo end up staging both legs at home.
A possible alternative is that the Mexicans hold their matches in Paraguay, where Conmebol is based and where it should be able to apply some pressure on the local authorities to go along with the plan.
A solution will need to be found soon, and while the Mexicans and their opponents wait, the action goes on without them. - and also without the teams from Bolivia and Colombia, all of whom were eliminated in the group phase.
In the case of Bolivia this is no surprise - it is the ninth consecutive year they have suffered a whitewash.
But this is the first time it has happened to Colombia since 1984. This year's wipeout is a blow for a country which is traditionally strong in the competition, and has produced one winner and three semi finalists in the current decade.
There is happier news for Peru. Tiny San Martin, featured in last week's column, are the first club from the country to make the knockout rounds for five years.
A long term trend in the Libertadores - of Brazil replacing Argentina as the dominant force - seems to showing up strongly. All five Brazilian clubs made it through, while three from Argentina have fallen by the wayside, leaving Boca Juniors and Estudiantes to carry the fight.
These, though, are preliminary observations, and it would be dangerous to attach too much importance to them.
In my time following the competition the campaign that most sticks in the mind is Boca Juniors' in 2003.
They had not looked particularly impressive in the group games, and were beaten at home by Paysandu of Brazil in the first leg of the next round. But then they caught fire.
They found the right position for Carlos Tevez - up in the forward line rather than as a deeper lying Riquelme replacement - and they won the return match, plus both legs of the quarters, semi and the final.
Maybe something similar will happen this year - a team will suddenly strike form.
Whatever happens, when the history of the 50th Libertadores is written, swine flu, San Martin, Colombian wipeout and all, it will concentrate on the knockout matches rather than the group games.
Comments on this piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) Regarding Liverpool's left back Insua, I have read in your blog that he didn't do too well in the Under 20s Tournament, but he has definitely had a very good season for Liverpool and established himself in the first team squad ahead of a full Italian international in Dossena. What is the competition like for the left back position in the Argentina squad, and if he continues to establish himself as a regular starter for Liverpool can he force his way in the main Argentina squad for the World Cup?
A) Left back is a bit of a problem position. Maradona has gone with Emiliano Papa of Velez, though I don't really see him as a long term solution. Heinze has played there in the past, but though Maradona likes him he doesn't think of him as a left back. There's Fabian Monzon from the Olympic team - Insua must surely regret not getting picked for that one.
Indeed, Insua struggled when he captained the side in the South American Under-20 Championships. Liverpool fans might be surprised to know that he started at left back, and was them switched to centre back - a role I'd previously see him play for Argentina at Under-20 level in the previous Under-20 tournament in early 2007. This versatility might work in his favour, especially if Maradona perseveres with a back three, a system he used in the World Cup qualifier at home to Venezuela - Insua wouldn't be the wing back, but might come into contention as the left sided centre back.
He shouldn't lack for allies. Maradona made a big point of convincing Insua's team-mate Javier Mascherano to be the team captain. That should mean that Insua is at least on the radar screen.
Q) I read a question on your column three or four months ago about the Brazilian striker Keirrison. I have been following his progress since he went to Palmeiras and I have to say he is looking like an amazing prospect - 19 goals in 23 games is some return, and commentators seem to be gushing about him.
You had said that Palmeiras (from Coritiba) was the right move for him as he was too raw. I was just wondering if you think he is any closer or more adapted to a move to Europe now, which is surely going to take place with rumours of Barcelona watching him in recent games, with figures of up to £20m being quoted.
A) Some commentators might be gushing, but the Palmeiras fans are not totally convinced. He's scored plenty of goals, but hasn't done much in the big games. I don't think it's a case of him 'bottling' it - I think it comes down to the fact that he is still raw. He's a terrific right footed finisher - but other aspects of his game need a lot of improvement. He needs to work on his left foot and become more confident taking chances on it first time, and he must improve his link play. There are too many times when he is going missing. I hope he doesn't go in this year's transfer window. This time next year I expect him to be better equipped for a move.