BBC BLOGS - Tim Vickery

Archives for May 2009

From prodigy to superstar

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Tim Vickery | 14:40 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The best part of working as a football journalist in South America is the chance to get a sneak preview of future stars and in all the years I have been doing it, the highlight - no doubt about it although the competition is fierce - was catching Lionel Messi on the way up.

It was the South American Under-20 Championships, held in Colombia at the start of 2005, when Argentina called up Messi without knowing a great deal about him.

There were whispers of a prodigy at Barcelona - Messi had played just one friendly in the first team - and Argentina wanted to be sure that if there was something special there, they and not Spain would be the beneficiaries.

So Messi was called back across the Atlantic for the tournament and although the number 10 shirt went to Pablo Barrientos, seen at the time as a great prospect, with Messi handed the number 18, it was quickly obvious which one was the real outstanding talent.

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Anderson provides midfield balance

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Tim Vickery | 18:29 UK time, Monday, 25 May 2009

At a conference in Rio in December 2007, a panel of big name local coaches were discussing the essence of Brazilian football.

One point was made a few times, that Manchester United were playing their expensive new signing Anderson in central midfield, a role that no coach in his native land would have considered for a nanosecond.

In order to get inside the mentality, first we have to jettison the myth. The conception of Brazil as a mass producer of gloriously talented footballers is entirely true. But the idea that their teams take the field with no concern for tactics and a reckless disregard for defence is false and always has been. Brazil, for example, invented the back four in order to have extra defensive cover.

This last myth has been especially wide of the mark since the early 80s. First, there was the failure of the glorious, flowing 1982 team to win the World Cup. Then, there was the decreasing job security for coaches in domestic football. The response to the 'three defeats and you're sacked' mentality was for the coaches to play safe, and pack central midfield with marking specialists.

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Caracas upset Libertadores order

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Tim Vickery | 07:49 UK time, Monday, 25 May 2009

The winners of Europe's strongest two leagues square up in the Champions League on Wednesday with the continental title at stake - and the traditional powers in South America are also coming through strongly.

Between them, clubs from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have claimed the Copa Libertadores title in all but seven of the first 49 editions. This year, the 50th, the historic big three can boast seven of the eight quarter-finalists, six of them former champions.

Confirming the recent trend of its dominance, Brazil have half of the last eight (Gremio, Sao Paulo, Cruzeiro and Palmeiras). Confirming the recent trend of its weakness, Argentina has just one, Estudiantes.

And Uruguay are enjoying a mini-resurgence. So strong in the early years of the competition, it has been 20 years since a Uruguayan club reached the semi-finals. But with Nacional and Defensor in the last eight, there's a chance that run will be brought to an end.

That leaves one place for the rest of the continent. And, as so often in the Libertadores, it has gone to the surprise package, Caracas FC of Venezuela, who have made the quarter-finals for the first time.

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How football conquered Brazil

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Tim Vickery | 07:35 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009

I've always had a soft spot for the military figure who, when advised to take cover, declined with the famous last words: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..." Thankfully, making predictions about football is not usually so hazardous, although it can make fools of the mighty.

One of Brazil's all-time great writers, Graciliano Ramos, distinguished himself with the forecast that in his country "football will not catch on, you can be sure of it."

He saw the game in Brazil as "a temporary enthusiasm capable of lasting a whole month. We have lots of our own sports," he continued. "Why should we want to go poking our nose into foreign things?"

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Low-key start to Brazilian championship

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Tim Vickery | 08:55 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

The biggest criticism that I could make of the organisation of Brazilian football is as follows - on the opening weekend of the national championship, the leading star in the entire competition was rested.

Ronaldo is fit and in form, looking full of goals in yet another remarkable comeback - and Corinthians decided not to pick him for Sunday's 1-0 defeat at home to Internacional.

And he is by no means the only big name who took no part in the opening round; Corinthians left out some other first-choice players, Palmeiras rested 2002 World Cup winning keeper Marcos and Sport gave a break to striker Wilson.

Anyone acquainted with the strengths of the league system will be astonished at this. All over the world the big kick-off is one of - if not the - highlights of the footballing calendar. It comes after a lengthy break from competitive action.

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Swine flu plays havoc with Copa Libertadores

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Tim Vickery | 07:00 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009

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...

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