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Corinthians close in on Libertadores dream

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Tim Vickery | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

Some 20 years ago, Corinthians director Luis Paulo Rosenberg made a promise to himself. He said, "[When we win the Copa Libertadores] I want to buy a bottle of cachaca (the local moonshine), drink it all myself and sleep in the gutter, drunk."

He has never been closer to buying that bottle. In the 53rd version of the South America's Champions League, the Brazilian giants have made it through to the final at last. They are two games away from lifting the trophy - the final is played on a home and away basis with the first match on 27 June and the return leg on 4 July.

But their Argentine opponents are rich in tradition. A Boca Juniors director given to celebrating Libertadores triumphs the Rosenberg way would surely have succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. The Argentine club have six wins to their name, four of them this century.

Boca are defined by their success in the competition, Corinthians have been marked by its absence, especially as all their local rivals have won it.

Corinthians celebrate their semi-final victory in the Copa Libertadores.

Corinthians are hoping to celebrate after the Copa Libertadores final. Photo - Getty images

That aside, there are striking similarities between the two clubs. Both are true giants. Corinthians are the most popular team in Sao Paulo, as are Boca in Buenos Aires. Both are products of the mass Italian immigration pouring into the rapidly urbanising cities of South America's southern cone in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both cultivate a working class ethic of sweat and sacrifice.

Comparisons also come easily when discussing their current sides. Both have a safety first, 'keep a clean sheet' mentality.

With age and injuries undermining Portuguese international centre forward Liedson, Corinthians have been taking the field without a recognised player in that role. Coach Tite's formation could probably best be described as 4-2-4-0. Nominally the strikers, Jorge Henrique and Emerson are thrown wide, and track back the forward runs of the opposing full backs. There are two attacking midfielders, the languid and intelligent Danilo, and the busier Alex. Behind them Ralf protects the back four, while Paulinho both defends and bursts forward to join the attack.

The strength in numbers of this midfield block makes Corinthians very hard to play through. In the 12 games of this campaign they have conceded just three goals.

Boca Juniors also pride themselves on defensive solidity. Things were always going to be interesting when Julio Cesar Falcioni took over as coach at the end of 2010. He was not known for playing with an old style number 10 - and at Boca, veteran playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme is king. Initially there were problems; two strikers plus Riquelme left the side too open. Falcioni's task eased a year ago when lumbering centre forward Martin Palermo retired.

It enabled him to select two mobile strikers, one of whom usually drops behind the line of the ball when the team loses possession. With a narrow midfield trio behind Riquelme, and deep enough to stay close to the defensive line, Boca, too, are hard to play though. They like to form a funnel, forcing the opposition inside where they come up against the Boca centre backs in reduced space. They conceded just six goals winning last year's domestic championship, and have only let in seven during the Libertadores campaign.

Both Boca and Corinthians made disappointing starts to this year's Libertadores against Venezuelan sides. Corinthians needed a 93rd-minute goal to snatch a draw at Deportivo Tachira - who failed to win a game in their group. Zamora did not manage a single goal in their six games, but they held Boca to a draw in a candidate for the worst game of the entire competition.

Tempers in the Boca camp were frayed after such an awful performance, and for a while rumours were flying that Falcioni had resigned. But after a sub-standard start, for one of these two teams the 2012 Libertadores is going to have a happy ending.

In emotional terms, Boca hold the advantage. This is the 13th Brazil v Argentina climax to the Libertadores. The club from Argentina has won nine of them, including the last five. In recent years the Brazilians have had a tendency to lose their heads under the pressure of the final game, especially when the second leg has been in front of their own fans, as is the case this year. Tite will have to work extensively on getting his players in the right frame of mind, especially as Boca are such experienced opponents.

In physical terms, Corinthians come out on top. The Brazilian Championship is only six rounds old, and Tite has been selecting reserve sides, leaving his players fresh for the Libertadores. Boca, meanwhile, have been caught up in the battle for the Argentine title.

They fielded a reserve side in Sunday's last round (for those who followed last week's blog, Tigre failed to win the championship but avoided the relegation play offs. Arsenal won their first title, leading sports daily 'Ole' to print the delightful headline 'Historic Arse') but up to then had been caught in a fixture pile up, losing centre back Juan Insaurralde to injury in the process.

If Corinthians can pass the ball with sufficient pace to get outside Boca's midfield block then they could do some damage. And if Boca have to chase the game their defence may not look so solid - key centre back Rolando Schiavi is 39, and can be vulnerable if drawn out into open space.

Whatever happens this week in Buenos Aires, next week in Sao Paulo, there is a good chance that Corinthians director Luis Paulo Rosenberg will be emotionally drained and lying in the gutter at the end of it all. But the probability is just over 50% that he will be staring at the stars.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;

I recently read about the horrible state of Vasco de Gama's youth development academy in regards to the conditions these young kids are forced to live and play football in. Is this a rare case or are other Brazilian clubs youth academies similar? What, if anything is being done about preventing this from happening in the future? Dan Green

A judge described the kids' conditions as 'slave-like,' listing outrages such as inadequate housing and transport and even rationing of water. Unfortunately no, this is not an isolated case. Other clubs are also guilty. We're looking underneath the rock at the ugly side of the beautiful game with this one - especially as the ruthless mathematics of football means that the vast majority of the kids will not go on to make a living from the game.
Initially the case was greeted with a depressing silence in the local media. The good news is that a Rio newspaper has been running an investigative series into the issue.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice Blog Tim.

    Come on Boca!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Cue the weekly Tim love-in...

    Has it occurred to anyone that the only reason this is considered to be the best football blog on the BBC is because hardly anyone among the readership is qualified to challenge the opinions offered?

    This is no personal attack because I read it every week and it's always well presented and articulate but with all the bile that some of the other writers have to put up with, it strikes me that the only reason this one doesn't suffer the same fate is that no-one is really in a position to disagree...

  • Comment number 3.

    The world club cup final should be interesting....not!

  • Comment number 4.

    No. 2 - Cue the Tim love in.. how could you not with his laid back profile pic!!

    As for the football, for no logical reason I have a soft spot for Boca and hope they win.

    So there

  • Comment number 5.

    Just curious Tim. I know it would be a first for Corinthians (and routine for Boca) but for whom would this Copa win be bigger? What do you speculate to be the long-term implications of winning this Copa Libertadores for each team?

  • Comment number 6.

    Re 2. At 12:45 25th Jun 2012, nikolaybollukov

    No-one has the knowledge to slate the author - shouldn't this be the case for all articles?!

    As it happens, I come here as much to read the comments as to read the article. There are so many excellent, knowledgeable commentators on Tim's blogs.

    I'm too early today, and don't have much to add, save that I am interested in hearing more about Brazilian academies and grassroots football.

  • Comment number 7.


    Actually, there are quite a few south americans, usually argies and brazilians, posting here. I am one of them.

    The reason Tim gets less flak is that he is better than other bloggers, and is usually right. I said USUALLY, not always. I have disagreed with his opinons a number of times.

    I even suspect Tim is not an englishman anymore when it comes down to weather. He is a CARIOCA. In his latest Football Phone Ins he has been saying that it gets GENUINELY COLD in the south of Brazil, during the World Cup 2014 months.

    Oh come on Tim. It gets genuinely cold for cariocas! I guess most europeans will be able to confortably wear t-shirts in the 8-10 celcius temperatures common at Porto Alegre winter afternoons. Yup, it dropped below zero just two weeks ago, but those temperatures are in early morning!

    You europeans reading this blog: do NOT worry. It does not gets cold enough for most europeans, even in southern Brazil. As for Canadians and Russians? 5 celcius is perfect swimming weather, isnt it?

  • Comment number 8.

    @7 AcesHigh

    Almost as good as the blog itself!

    BTW, Tim, thanks for updating us on Tigre; although I don't know anything about them, I'm glad they didn't go down.

  • Comment number 9.

    7 - as far as I'm concerned, 8-10 degrees is motive to declare a national emergency.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a Banfield fan, I'm gutted with the relegation but the writing has been on the wall since Falcioni left and took half the team with him. The chairman has been cutting his losses ever since and the future looks very bleak. Most of the sides from the capital have severe debt and as a result the teams from the rest of the country are replacing them. AFA need to have a long look in the mirror but as long as it has Boca-River and can send the national team to play expensive 'friendlies' around the world, it is unlikely to change. It also gets a nice cheque from the government who use the advertisement space for propaganda. I wish Boca Juniors well in the final but in winning the cup it shouldn't be taken as a sign of strength of the Argentine league

  • Comment number 11.


    I think Tim doesn't have to 'put up with the bile' because:

    - He's consistent, articulate and objective. The crowd he attracts generally recognise and appreciate this, and while you may be partially right that he's more knowledgeable on south american football than most of the responders, @7 did point out that a number of the responders are from south america.

    I think the secret may be that Tim has found a way to be strong on the issues, yet rise above the partisan.

    And for that, he deserves a 'love-in'.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think I want Boca to win it, would be great for Riquelme and Schiavi to go out on a high - also Boca will be fired up having lost out on the league, if they were to lose out on this too the season could be seen as a disappointment.

    I wrote about Corinthians a couple of times earlier on in the tournament when they faced Nacional of Paraguay, at the time I saw them as the most organised of the Brazilian sides that had crossed Paraguayan opposition (Flamengo and Vasco being the other two) so in a way it isn't a surprise to see them get to the final even without a superstar name like 'Neymar' or 'Ronaldinho'.

  • Comment number 13.

    Beautiful sentiment #2, how sad that you want to spread the bile around! Tim has been writing quality articles for World Soccer for as long as I can remember, he is not new to this lark. Also the quality of respondent always used to be really high, particularly back when everyone else was baiting each other on 606...

    Sounds like it could be a tight final Tim, although I'm sure the 2 beaten semi-finalists would've given us a more open tie. Although you can't argue with these 2 giants squaring off, what a brilliant match. Wish I could see it - one of these days I'll get a Premier sports subscription! Keep up the good work Tim!

  • Comment number 14.

    Tim, please allow me to disagree with you regarding the origins of Corinthians.
    In the first paragraph after the picture, you said that Corinthians is a product of the Italian immigration to São Paulo. Actually, its founders were mostly Spanish immigrants. Not only that, when Palestra Italia (team that changed its name to Palmeiras afterwards due to the World War II) was founded, the majority of Italian immigrants changed sides, to follow the club more connected to their motherland.

  • Comment number 15.

    14 - your understanding was mine as well - but I was in Sao Paulo last month, where a local journo swore blind that the origins of Corinthians were overwhelmingly Italian - I saw the idea put forward in the Brazilian press over the weekend, so went with it - should have played safe and written 'European' rather than 'Italian' - on second thoughts, even that would enrage Corinthians fans ofLebanese and Japanese origin.

  • Comment number 16.

    Lebanese and Japanese origin? Really? From where did you take this?

  • Comment number 17.

    A bit off-topic, but regarding clubs origins... I dont know if I already sent you this Tim, but check it out:

    a flyer of the first match between Grêmio and Internacional, in 1909.

    Most Grêmio players, as well as most referees, linesman, etc, are germans or german-descendants. Grêmio is not alone at that. Most sport clubs in Porto Alegre at the time, from rowing to gymnastics were german... most still exist, but changed their names in World War 2, when Getúlio Vargas forbid names related to Germany and Italy. Ever heard of SOGIPA in Porto Alegre? Original name was "Deutscher Turnerbund Schützverein"

    Tim, look this article... by the great-great-nephew of Arthur Lawson, the guy who brought football to Rio Grande do Sul and co-founded (along with a german), Sport Club Rio Grande, the oldest football club in Brazil

    and here the link to the flyer of the first grenal

  • Comment number 18.

    Great post , Tim

    para aqueles que querem debater sériamente os problemas do futebol brasileiro

  • Comment number 19.

    Unfortunately this year's Libertadores echoes European football: who doesn't dare wins.

    It has been fascinating watching the Euros: Greece, the Czech Republic and Jordan Henderson have combined style, finesse and quality to deliver a memorable spectacle, with terrific cameos from Ukraine, Poland, Sweden and other big-hitters.

    Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and Iniesta have been very, very good, but if you want to watch the rest of the world's ten best players look up on YouTube yesterday's Messi All-Star match in Miami: Drogba, Messi, Suarez, Cavani et al served up a treat in the rain.

  • Comment number 20.

    I have tickets for me and my Son for Brasil v Egypt at the Millennium Stadium here in Cardiff on the 26th of July. Yes, I am 'doing' the Olympics.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 21.

    Chelsea's announcement that David Luiz is in Brazil's Olympic squad means that their three overage players include two centre-backs (Luiz and Thiago Silva) plus Hulk. Under'23 teammates will include Neymar, Ganso, Leandro Damiao, Sandro and Rafael.

    Looks like Menezes followed Tim's advice to omit Marcelo.

  • Comment number 22.

    9 - Tim, 8 to 10 degrees celsius in southern Brazil is not seen as bad at all. Temperature today at 7 am was 11 degrees in Curitiba (one of 2014 WC venues). Maximum temperature is predicted to be 17-18 degrees. No big deal for us but terrible to any carioca. Last sunday had similar temperatures but was sunny and there were lots of people at the parks.

    16 - By the beginning of the 20th century, about 40% of São Paulo's population was of immigrants (e.g., Europeans, Lebanese, Japanese, etc.). The immigrant museum in São Paulo has released about 70000 digital documents at their website. Quite interestingly there is a picture of a newspaper printed in Spanish in São Paulo (although we speak Portuguese). It is mostly in Portuguese but you can check it at:

  • Comment number 23.

    I am Corinthians fan and this should be a very tense final.

    I have little knowledge of Boca, but it is safe to say that at the Bombonera they are always very very strong. In fact, I think Tim would agree that their stadium is perhaps the one in which the pressure is really felt by both teams. The sound, the chanting and the perceived influence of the stadium on the away and home team are huge.

    That being said, comparing teams I think Corinthians is quite ahead of Boca both in terms of organization and individual players. Our back 4 are by far the strongest in Brazil having played together for around 2 seasons now and consistently conceding the least amount of goals in any competition they play in, be it State, National or international Championships.

    The team as a whole has played together for the most part for around 2 seasons and most importantly of all the philosophy has maintained its basics since Mano Menezes. That is of a team built on 2 very strong and versatile defensive midfielders (Christian and Elias, Jucilei and Elias, Jucilei and Ralf, and now Ralf and Paulinho) and a complete commitment from the whole team, especially wingers, to follow your man and be defensively solid.

    I think that is Corinthian's greatest asset, whereas Boca will rely on the confidence of playing at home and their infinitely superior record at the Libertadores, Corinthians will rely on the undeniable confidence of 4 seasons of success based on a core of players and a mentality that suits the club very well.

    Corinthians to win, with the 1st leg being rather dirty because that's what happens at the Bombonera and the second to be very tense all the way to the end.

    However, if Corinthians get a 1st away goal, I will be celebrating because this team does not concede regardless of the pressure and relishes in the opportunity to counter attack, and has the individual quality to execute this very well.

  • Comment number 24.

    I manged to get to the La Casa Blanca at the weekend for the Liga vs Deportivo Quito game. Compared to the Atahaulpa it is a palace. There is no deep, ditch nor Olympic running track around the pitch and even the obligatory fence is a net rather than wire mesh.

    The experience is much closer to the UK matches.

    I still think the Libertadores should be a one off game in a neutral or pre-decided venue. I can understand the argument over travel and cost but this hasn,t seemed to stop away supporters travelling the long distances in previous competitions although admittedly not in huge numbers.

    Although i would hate the final to be outside the continent ,with the majority of Brazil and Argentina friendly gamesnow being held outside of South America, I think money will dictate the future and we may see the finals of the Libertadores and Suda-America being held in Europe or North America.

    I think a one off game brings more parity to the match and the Libertodores favours the teams in Brazil. The quarter final qualifiers is a testament to this.

  • Comment number 25.

    Tim, next time make a comparasion to an english club. Otherwise... look above... only 24 posts so far...

  • Comment number 26.

    2 - I'm Brazilian and I can tell you this blog is the best football blog I've found on the Internet in a long time. Its contents about South American football are better than any Brazilian blog I know.

  • Comment number 27.

    25 - I had indeed hoped for a more lively debate, especially as I believe this is the first BBC blog ever to make a reference to a newspaper headline of 'Historic Arse.'

  • Comment number 28.

    Now let's get to the bottom of that headline....

  • Comment number 29.

    It will all come down to how Riquelme plays. If he's fit, he'll lift this very average Boca team to another level. Boca is Boca and history is on their side.

    Hopefully Corinthians, being their first final, won't be overwhelmed by the occasion or the opposition, as it was the case in the semifinals with Universidad de Chile who saw the Boca shirt and fell to pieces... despite having had a great campaign until then.

    In any case, just imagine one of these two teams taking on Chelsea for the Club World Cup...cure for insomnia...guaranteed...with Chelsea parking the proverbial bus and the other team playing the counterattacking game...yawn

  • Comment number 30.

    With recent reports of Florent Malouda being linked to a move to brazil, a place he has always wanted to play, do you think his move would be successful? As a chelsea fan myself i do not rate the guy, technically not very good and his lack of pace is worrying.

    As for the guy who talked about chelsea parking the bus v Boca or Corinthians, don't be silly the gulf in standard between the teams is so great, they are not Bayern or Barca. Also with the fact that chelsea's style of play will be changing this year, i can't see us doing much defending against either of these average teams when looking at in in perspective to the quality of players.

    Also about the weather, when i was in Curitiba it was cold like Tim was saying, very English weather conditions, grey and raining often.

    Corinthians win for me.

  • Comment number 31.

    I was afraid that the over-zealous (or should that be anal?) BBC moderators would remove any response referring to said headline Tim....

    Unfortunately the average British football fan isn't particularly interested in broadening their horizons. Not when they can argue about which line-up or formation would've beaten the Italians, I would imagine. I would suggest that it doesn't really matter when you don't have the ball, but the Chelsea example gives hope to all of them I suppose!

  • Comment number 32.

    the reference to "historic arse" is at the end of the article. And also I noticed to reference to Messi at the first paragraph. That explains the low (but good quality I guess) debate.

    So many people praise this column for talking about south american football, but I wonder how many people in England really care, and how many only care or only understand when there are several direct comparasions to english and european football. :(

  • Comment number 33.

    @Nile: Tim said the truth about the weather in southern Brazil. My question was if, after living in Rio for 18 years, in $20 million penthouse in Leblon area, if Tim´s vision of what constitutes "GENUINELY COLD WEATHER" was the view of an englishman or the view of a carioca! I heard cariocas use scarfs and gloves when the temperatures fall below 18ºC in Rio haha.

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Tim,

    As a 19 year old who has never looked further than the Premier League for football your blogs really have been a revelation! They have made me wildy more interested in South american football the the premier league (unless Spurs are playing) and I just wanted to thank you for the blogs! Really need to get a tv subcription so I can watch some south american games, rather than relying on fifa 12! Have you any suggestions?



  • Comment number 35.

    If history and pedigree counts, then Boca is clear favourite. If teamwork is more important, Corinthians prevails.

    Boca will try to get an advantage, however small, to transfer all the pressure to Corinthians in Brazil. The ghosts of previous Libertadores won't be easily vanished in this case. Even if the paulista side is clearly focused, prepared and dedicated to this tournament as never before in their history.



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