Long journey pays off for Pedroza
The fascinating 51-year history of the Copa Libertadores has now been further enriched by the emergence of a goalscorer born in England.
Antonio Pedroza's journey has taken him from Chester to Chiapas, the town of his birth to the region in the south of Mexico where he now plays as a striker for Jaguares.
The son of a Mexican father and an English mother, Pedroza ensured that the club's debut campaign in the Libertadores got off to a good start when, just before his 20th birthday, he scored in both legs of their qualifying match against Alianza Lima of Peru.
But then little was seen of him - until last week's quarter-final first leg at home to Cerro Porteno of Paraguay.
The game between Cerro Porteno and Jaguares was a close-fought affair - photo: Reuters
His chances of getting a game improved when Jackson Martinez, the team's excellent Colombian centre-forward, was sent off in the previous match and thus suspended for the first leg against Cerro.
Pedroza was on the bench, and after Jaguares made next to no impression in the first half, he was brought on at the interval. His pace and willingness made an impression, but whenever he got himself into a good position he was in too much of a hurry and the opportunities were lost.
As the game moved into stoppage time it seemed that Jaguares were sure to go down to a disappointing 1-0 defeat, but then came a moment of finishing of which one-time Chester City striker Ian Rush would have been proud. Pedroza is no giant, but when a cross came in from the left he climbed above the Paraguayan defence and powered a header in off the far post.
And so Cerro were denied a first-leg victory that looked to be theirs when Jonathan Fabbro's side-footed volley took a deflection past the Jaguares keeper.
There is no English connection with Fabbro. He is an old style Argentine playmaker. But veteran observers of English football will know the type. With his lank hair, shirt outside his shorts and flashes of talent mixed with hand-on-his-hips petulance, Fabbro could have stepped out of a sticker album from early 70s England, alongside the likes of Charlie George and Rodney Marsh.
You could imagine him fitting in to the Queens Park Rangers team of the time, and helping Stan Bowles spend his money down the bookies after training.
One player it would be very unwise to bet on is Fabbro himself. Inconsistency is part of his nature. Now 29, he has had a nomadic career, taking in Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Chile as well as his native Argentina and Paraguay, where he has settled and played some of his best football over the past four years.
In his time in Colombia he was part of the Once Caldas squad that were surprise winners of the Libertadores in 2004, though he spent most of the campaign on the bench. At the end of the year, though, he was in the starting line up when the Colombians took on Porto in Japan in the old Inter-Continental Cup.
After 120 goalless minutes, the game went to penalties. Once Caldas had played the cautious, counter-attacking game typical of that 2004 team. Their most incisive moments had come from Fabbro's passes. The side's leading talent, he was the last of their five designated penalty takers.
Fabbro has not always done full justice to the talent he possesses - photo: Reuters
Just before his turn, Porto's Maniche blasted his shot against the bar. All Fabbro had to do was place his shot beyond Porto's reserve keeper - first choice Vitor Baia was forced off during the game - and a provincial club from the small Colombian town of Manizales would be entitled to call themselves champions of the world. He hit the post, and after four penalties each in sudden death, Porto took the title.
That same inconsistecy has been in evidence during this year's Libertadores. At home to Santos of Brazil, for example, Fabbro was a disaster. He tried to do everything himself and achieved nothing. It was a performance so poor that it might be worthy of being awarded one out of 10 purely for remembering to put his shirt on the right way round.
The following week, though, he was irresistible. To make the knock out stages Cerro needed to win away to Chile's free-scoring Colo Colo, and they soon found themselves two goals down. Fabbro dug them out of the hole. He set up one goal with a clever pass, and scored two crackers of his own, the second a high pressure 88th minute free-kick. It was nearly 10 out of 10 stuff.
Cerro Porteno fans will hope that he can keep delivering. The stakes are high. Five times the club have reached the semi-finals of the Libertadores and have never gone further. Big local rivals Olimpia have won the trophy three times, and never miss an opportunity to remind Cerro's fans of the fact.
But can a side built around the playmaking of Fabbro ever be sufficiently consistent to go all the way? There is a young striker born in Chester who plans to ensure they will not even reach this year's semi-finals.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. 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) I would like to know if there are claims or cases of age cheating in
South American teams presented at the various CONMEBOL or
Fifa-organised youth competitions.
A) There certainly have been - especially in Brazil. When they won the 2003 World Youth Cup, one of their players (midfielder Carlos Alberto) was closer to 30 than 20! There have been a number of cases of this kind of age fixing, usually the work of unscrupulous agents. Ecuador has also had problems - current national team captain Walter Ayovi was caught playing under a false identity a decade ago.
Q) I regularly watch Latin American and Spanish football and i am enchanted and mesmerised by the genius of Ever Banega. For such a young player, his plays like a veteran, possessing an experience and understanding of the game vastly beyond his years but with the lung capacity of a young player. I was disappointed to not seem him included in the World Cup. Surely he has outgrown Valencia and isn't always given the chance his talent deserves. How do you evaluate his career and his future?
A) I'm a huge, huge fan. The first time I saw him, playing for Argentina's Under-20s, within 20 seconds he was in my notebook for his ability to play a pass. More than Zanetti or Cambiasso, I thought he was the most baffling omission from Argentina's World Cup squad - an error happily corrected right away by Sergio Batista. I'm really looking forward to watching him in the coming Copa America - I think he's capable of giving Messi the same quality of service that he receives from Xavi at Barcelona.