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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.


Venezuela was the last South American country to get the football bug. The poor boy's vision of sport as a means of social ascension exists in the country, as it does all over the continent.

But in Venezuela the hopes are much more likely to be deposited in baseball. The field of dreams has a pitcher's mound rather than a goal at either end. Football has long existed in the country but it has been associated more with European immigrants, frequently of a more middle class background than the locals.

This was especially true in the capital. Caracas was not seen as a football hotbed. The game's historical stronghold in Venezuela has been in cities of the west, close to the Colombian border, such as San Cristobal and Merida.

And yet Caracas FC have now established themselves as the undisputed top dogs in Venezuelan football. The club only turned professional in 1984, but they have won nine of the last 17 league titles, and are in this year's final as well, drawing Saturday's first leg 1-1 with Deportivo Italia. A win in Sunday's return match will bring title number 10.

Sustaining this kind of success has allowed them to build up a sound support base. The exploits of Caracas FC have belatedly helped transform Venezuela's capital into a city of football as well as baseball.

First class administration would seem to be the secret. It is no co-incidence that the run of success began in the early 90s, with the 1991/92 league title. At the end of the previous decade the club was taken over by Guillermo Valentiner, a businessman from the pharmaceutical sector who has a lengthy history as a backer of sports. His resources, commitment and administrative experience have been of huge importance.

More than any other club in Venezuela, Caracas have taken the long term view and invested in youth development. They are a club who produce players - not world-class stars yet, though that might come.

The last big sale was highly-talented young attacking midfielder Ronald Vargas, who has just come through his first season with Bruges in Belgium. Cesar Gonzalez, in the Huracan side playing so attractively in Argentina, is another graduate.

Long-term planning, commitment to youth development, stability - pillars of the club's approach embodied by coach Noel Sanvicente. A former international, he cut his teeth with Caracas' youth teams before taking the top job in 2002.

All across South America there are very few - if any - coaches who have been in charge of a big club for seven years. In this case there is no confusing stability with stagnation. Sanvicente exudes ambition.

Two years ago in the Libertadores his team beat Argentina's River Plate home and away. Then in the second round they gave Brazil's Santos a huge fright before succumbing 5-4 on aggregate. Now they have overcome that second round hurdle, and the coach is convinced they can go further.

It will take some heroics. Caracas are up against Gremio of Brazil, probably the most impressive team so far in this year's competition.

Keeper Vega is something of a showman. He has days when he catches everything, and others when he is not so reliable. Against Gremio's aerial power only the first will be good enough.

Uruguayan centre-back Barone will have to be at his combative and organisational best, and Caracas will hope his defensive partner Rey can strike gold with one of his famous long-range free kicks. Argentine attacking midfielder Figueroa is the key man in possession and the pace of Renteria could be important up front.

Wednesday's first leg is crucial. Caracas have been a home town side in this competition, with a 100% record in front of their own fans. Gremio, incredibly, are 100% away. But apart from the long journey north, Caracas offers a further hazard. The pitch in the Olimpico stadium is in awful condition. It could prove a leveller.

And, if it goes to form and Gremio come out on top over the two legs, there is no need for Caracas to despair. One, they have gone further than ever before. Two, they have already booked their place in next year's Libertadores.

Comments on today's piece in the space below. Any other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag;

Q) I wanted your opinion on a player I have seen a bit of this season in La Liga, Juan Albin of Getafe. A Uruguayan I believe. Whenever I have seen him I have liked his style, a second striker who comes from wide well and seems to be at the heart of most of his team's good moves, does he have a decent reputation back home?
Neil Jones, Liverpool

A) He came up the youth ranks with Uruguay and played briefly for one of the big two, Nacional, before heading for Europe. I picked him out as one to watch in World Soccer magazine after the 2005 South American Under-20 Championships.

What really stood out at the time was his superb free kicks. His overall contribution left something to be desired, though - I recall his coach telling me that Albin needed to become more mature as a person.

I haven't seen much of him since he moved, though from what you're saying he seems to be making progress. Surprising, then, that he didn't make the Uruguay squad for next month's World Cup qualifiers. He got a call up last time, but they've now left him out.

Q) A couple of months back you profiled the success and failures of Brazilian coaches in Europe. You overlooked outgoing Monaco coach Ricardo who also coached Bordeaux.
How do you rate him?
Chris Lubasi

Ricardo Gomes was very impressive as a centre back, and he comes across as a good bloke too. He coached some clubs in Brazil - I liked his work with Juventude, not so much with Flamengo and Fluminense - but he really soured his reputation over here when he made a right mess up of the Brazil Under-23s, who he was unable to qualify for the 2004 Olympics.

I haven't followed his work closely in France, though I am reliably informed that the quality of football played by Bordeaux improved dramatically when he was replaced by Laurent Blanc.

One of the main points in that piece you mentioned - the difficulty Brazilian coaches seem to be facing in Europe - was that it's proving hard for them to deal with multi-national squads. If this is to be broken down, then it's likely to be done by Brazilians like Ricardo Gomes who have played in Europe and are used to cosmopolitan dressing rooms.


  • Comment number 1.

    true in the capital is very important

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    what's that? for any win? any person should do that?

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Tim

    Interesting read as ever, I have a couple of questions from what you have said:

    1) why do you feel the Argentinean teams have struggled this year in the Libertadores? Is it just a cyclical thing with River, Boca, San Lorenzo etc playing poorly domestically this year, or is it a sign of changing times in Argentina?

    2) who do you feel will win this years Libertadores and do you feel they will have enough to take on either Man u or Barca in the World Club Championship next year (obviously difficult to judge if as usual players leave next winter), or will whoever wins have to play the containing game we have seen from recent winners and hit on the counter-attack?

  • Comment number 5.


    We normally see less dominance from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina at this stage of the competition, with at least 2-3 of the teams in the last eight coming from the 'other countries'. Apart from the well-documented problems experienced by Mexican teams, why have clubs from other South American nations struggled to make an impact this season, save for Caracas?


  • Comment number 6.

    I was wondering why Premier League Clubs are not buying young Brazilians?or South Americans for that matter!Like Anderson at Manchester!He was bought from Porto where he spent One Season!and was signed for a relatively lower sum than what Manchester Paid!Thiago Heleno of Cruzerio Joined Fenerbache now if a BPL Team where to sign him it will be for a much higher Fee!Would it not be better for BPL teams to employ full time scouts in South American Countries to Unearth players like them and sign them for relatively cheaper sums!Ramires of Cruzerio was signed By Benfica for 7.5 million Euros!which is peanuts compared to what they will get by selling him if he performs well for them which in all probability he will!Would it not be better to buy young South Americans and loan them out to Portugese or Spanish Clubs to gain Experience!Isnt it what Arsene Wenger did when he signed Carlos Vela!So isnt buying South Americans directly from their initial Clubs and loaning them out for experience a better option than waiting for a European Club to buy him and then to pay insane amounts to procure his services?

  • Comment number 7.

    Tim, what do you expect from Brazil in the Confederations Cup, can they beat Spain? Ronaldinho left out, surprised? Will Alexandre Pato be given a lead role?

  • Comment number 8.

    Cmon Its Gremio easy

  • Comment number 9.

    Post 6, i think you'll find your being incredibly naive in thinking that the premier league doesn't have scouts in South America. The likes of wigan scour south america for talent hence why they have had players like Valencia and Palacios. A problem English clubs have with regards getting the players so young is the work permit system. It is a lot more difficult for players to receive a work permit for the players. How many of the players bought over to europe for the teams you describe above make the kind of money you imply they definitely will. They may well go for a lot less than they paid for and i'm pretty sure they quite regularly do. So instead of the top teams flooding their squad with rated players from South America who are unproven in Europe, it is often most prudent for teams to see how they perform in Europe then purchase them. It probably actually works out cheaper. Obviously there are some talents who are more likely to make it than others though ala Kaka, Pato, Robinho.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    #6 - its simply due to work permits and national relations. Portugal has much weaker restrictions on South American permits, as well as many other countries. Unless a player can get a European passport via an ancestor, its nearly impossible for most Central/South Americans to play in the UK if they are young and unknown, even if they have great potential.

  • Comment number 12.

    Post 9 and 11 Agreed the premier League has scouts in South America!and yes the work permit system is very rigid in England!lets see for certain players to fail completely in European Leagues will be due to injury like Kerlon who missed Majority of Cheivo's Season due to Injury!and made only 3 League Appearances for them!and the work permit can be manouvered through!Carlos Vela is a Example of that!and I was specifically talking about players who were linked with big name clubs!Clubs who failed to sign them because they felt he was too overpriced!When Querioz was at Madrid he informed about a certain Defender who was Available for 3 million!the Madrid Heirachy refused to Pay that sum considering it too high for 19 year old!and that to a Defender!They went and brought him for close to 10 times the amount!I am talking about Pepe!He too came through the ranks of Sport Club Corinthians Alagoano famous for churning out brilliant young players!he was Signed by Maritmo as a youth player and then sold to Porto!My point is guys like Douglas Costa,etc are likely to taste success even in Europe!so why wait to see him play in a Portugese or a Turkish League!and i am pretty Sure Heleno,Ramires,Breno(Now at Bayern Munich),Douglas Costa,Diego Buonanotte(River Plate),Ángel Di María(Benfica) and a host of other Talented guys should make the transition without much difficulty provided they stay fit enough!

  • Comment number 13.


    What are your thoughts about the standard of refereeing in this year's Libertadores? Libertad were clearly harmed by bad decisions against them in La Plata, prompting their president to accuse Eduardo Deluca,Conmebol's secretary, of influencing the work of referees in order to help the clubs from Brazil and Argentina advance in the tournamnent.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Tim,

    Another excellent blog - It's been an interesting season for the under-dogs. Hopefully the Caracas v Gremio matches will be entertaining show of football over the two legs and not just a one-sided affair.


  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Tim, excellent blog. Just a note about Juan Angel ALBIN, he's not been called up for the Uruguay squad for the Brazil and Venezuela game because he is injured, nothing to do with his form, he's done excellent for Getafe this season, played 32 games (rarely 90 minutes, may I add) and scored 7 goals, a couple of vital importance if Getafe are to stay up. Without doubt the other player to follow at Getafe is Esteban Granero. He is class!
    You also mentioned Huracan in your article about Caracas CF (great article, as usual!!), I went to see them almost by accident in their fourth or fifth game of clausura at home against Lanus and they lterally thrashed them 3-0. I was extremely impressed by Mario Bolatti and Javier Pastore, who is only 19! Since then I've become a bit of a fan of "El Globito" and have watched them since on numerous occasions at the Parque de los Patricios. They are now second after beating R. Central 1-2 on Sunday.
    Keep up the great work, if you need anything from Spain or South America, please let me know as I am in one place or the other, normally (watching football)!! Clive Jagger, Player's Agent 633, RFEF (Spanish Federation);

  • Comment number 16.

    I recently read in an Irish newspaper that Manchester United struck a deal with a Brazilian sports company that specialising in nurturing young Brazilian talent. The deal will apperently give United first option on signing the players they bring through. Is this in fact the case? I didnt see the deal reported much in the English press. What are the ins and outs of the deal and do you think United will benifit much from the arrangement?

  • Comment number 17.

    Post 6 is not naive at all. I don't think any Premiership clubs have socuts in South Amercia - they don't even have them in Spain (other than Arsenal) - however, I have seen a few scouts down there, but only on short trips (some of whom I have assisted). Wigan get their South American players through one single agent (an Ecudorian agent - who's??), Man. U's Brazilian and Portuguese players all belong to the same agent - who? No prizes for that one - he tends to have big percentages of the players, too - so much for third party ownership, ha, ha! As far as work permits are concerned, yes, many players do have access to EU passports and many are internationals, thus qualify. I could name you a full team of 11 players right now, a full squad if you want, all probably 90% sure to get work permits, potentially better than many playing in the Premiership right now on ridiculously high salaries and a lack of hunger, and yes much cheaper. I am even more surprised not to see more Championship clubs also bringing in players from South America, they could really make big bucks! South American clubs are very flexible indeed on how they do their business and if you stay clear of the top Argentinean and Brazilian clubs, there are some incredible players there for the taking. Most clubs would do loans with options on players which English clubs love doing, as it ensures you aren't tied to the player, which is sensible. Can't understand why Premiership clubs don't buy South American players and loan them to Championship clubs, either - just look to see how many players Villarreal CF do that with!! Villarreal sold Martin Cacares to Barcelona for 17m having loaned him to Recreativo de Huelva last season - he didn't even play for Villarreal! They bought 50% of his ownership from Defensor Sporting (Uruguay) for 3m.
    The main problem at UK clubs is no one (understandably) wants the responsibilty of making a bad decision or judgement - if it turns out good, everyone claims the glory, if it doesn't, some poor soul gets the blame and probably the sack!
    Clive Jagger, Players' Agent 633, RFEF (Spain).

  • Comment number 18.

    Forgot to add that nearly all Uruguayans and Argentineans playing in Spain, for example, have EU passports, including Martin Cacares. In Portugal, Brazilians don't count as "foreign" players due to an agreement with their ex-Colony. Above, I meant to say Ecuatorian, my apologies.

  • Comment number 19.

    clivejagger: I also can't see why more Premiership clubs don't send more scouts to South America. One possible reason is that the game is so much faster in the Premier League, that they would need to see how the likes of a Banega or Gago would react to not having as much time on the ball as they were used to with Boca, for example. This is a good example too, both players were at Boca at a similar time, Banega filled the gap Gago left. Now Gago is seen as a natural heir to Redondo and is a highly accomplished midfielder, Banega never really hit it off at Valencia after arriving for big money, and moved to Atlético on a year's loan and has still only fleetingly shown class.

    As for EU passports, that's a bit of a dodgy area with regards to South America. Spain has recently (since late December) allowed grandchildren of Spanish citizens to apply for passoprts, so there will be an increase of those eligible, especially in Argentina and Uruguay. However, there are plenty of fakes floating around on players currently in Europe. I believe not too long ago there was a small Italian village from which over 2,000 Argentines were 'descended'.

    Add to that the rules in Spain that allow a citizen of its former colonies to obtain citizenship in 2 years, and it is certainly beneficial to clubs like Getafe and Villareal, who rely heavily on South American imports. It could work for a British club as simply as setting up links with a club like Getafe to loan these youngsters out to them so they can get citizenship.

    Actually, Getafe would be ideal for any of the big 4 in England, they're quite a small club in Madrid, so there are a lot of South Americans around. The club could do with a steady stream of a bit of money and some players too, with the option to pick up the players who don't make the grade at the bigger clubs. Solutions like this happen quite often to get around the UK's strict rules. A player has to have played in at least 75% of their country's last 16 games, or to have a sufficiently high reputation or potential, that's how a lot of clubs win on appeal, Anderson being an example. Those that don't win out, have partnerships, Man U at Antwerp, Arsenal at Beveren and Osasuna, Chelsea at Westerlo being examples.

  • Comment number 20.

    Nice stuff Tim. I know very little about football in South America. Through your indepth writing you keep filling the lacuna in me.

    Coming to your point of coaches being in charge of a club for long, I am made to look around and I see Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger in the EPL who have held fort in style. Here in India we have Armando Colaço of Goa's Dempo Sports Club and Bimal Ghosh of Air India in Mumbai. There is something special about these guys who can last that long.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 21.

    hope sao paulo win it again

    tim whats the complete draw please and is there anywhere in the uk we can watch this magnificent competition if nof why dont the bbc look at covering it, as most games are late evening anyway

  • Comment number 22.

    OnedayRemains - some interesting points there, however, I don't think it is fair to choose Gago and Benegas as examples of South American footballers!!! Only two or three clubs in Spain are suited to that kind of player. Why not say Mascherano or Tevez? Diego Forlan, Luis Fabiano? Sebastian Eguren, Pipita Higuain, Messi??? Another thing we always say here in Spain, too, if most scouts saw Cesc Fabregas playing in Spain, they'd all say he wasn't good for England.

    Here are a couple of classics from scouts from UK clubs while in Spain:

    Fernando Torres - "wouldn't score enough goals and isn't good enough for Premiership" Spurs' director of football, at Celta v. At. Madrid, At. Madrid won 1-3 and Torres scored 2 after the comment!!

    David Silva (at age 18) - "too small for UK"!

    The list is endless, I promise.

  • Comment number 23.

    I would like to know what you think of River Plate Midfielder Diego Buonanotte?He is an excellent Playmaker according to me and definitely one of the best Attacking Midfielders in Argentina!But we havent heard of any link ups with European Clubs!why is that?

  • Comment number 24.

    The only teams that have more than three or four South Americans amongst their squads are Manchester City(Elano,Robinho,Zabaleta),Manchester United(Rodrigo Possebon,Rafeal and Fabio Da Silva,Anderson),Chelsea(Mineiro,Alex,Belleti and Di Santo),Liverpool(Lucas,Fabio Aurelio,Insua,Mascherano,Sebastian Leto*out on loan),Tottenham Hotspurs(Gomes,Gilberto,Palacios,Dos Santos),Wigan(Rodallega,Valencia)!and perhaps 5-7 others!that means jus 27 to 30 South Americans in the Premier League!Compare it with Spanish La Liga or Serie A or Even the Bundesliga for that matter!the number is very low!

  • Comment number 25.

    Post 21 - you can watch the Libertadores in the UK on Setanta 2 although it's not free to air and the coverage is not as comprehensive as previous, failing that you can try web feeds but quality is very random.

  • Comment number 26.

    PhilosophicalCyborg: Clever man! I see you know your Argentinean footie, Diego Buonanotte is an excellent player, however the price they are asking rules out most clubs. However, have a look at Salvio at Lanus, only 18 and the best thing in Argentina since Sergio Aguero, in my opinion, and still at a reasonable price....

  • Comment number 27.

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  • Comment number 28.

    post 25 - thanks for the help, i have setanta 1 on freeview so hopefullt they show full reruns like in the past.

  • Comment number 29.

    clivejagger: You are right in that there are plenty more examples of players from South America to choose from, but my own personal "expertise", if it can be called that, is of Argentina. Banega and Gago came from the same club, the first a year after the second, both went for big money. Both are similar types of players, and where one has suceeded, the other has stumbled so far. That was the basis of my analogy. It comes down to the personality of the player, I'm a great believer that sport at the top level is run as much in the head as it is on the field/track/court etc.

    You are also right about there being lots of examples of British teams turning down players on size and them becoming great. Birmingham City turned down a 19 year old Luis Figo, for example.

    As for Buonanotte, I have my doubts. Sure, it's hard to shine in a team that is struggling to hit the heights the fans think they should, but he hasn't shown much progress from when he broke into the team. He was terrifying defenders by running straight at them, then picking a pass or running past them. Now he seems to have either listened too much to the press or has gone into his shell, because he gets the ball and his first instinct is to shoot from wherever he is.

    I certainly think he could make a good player who could do well in Europe, but I don't think he has the attitude at this moment to be able to say he will make the most of that great technical ability. He could do with another season at River or, if he has to move, to a smaller club in Spain where he could adapt to life abroad (he has said he doesn't want to leave Argentina because of his girlfriend) and he could be away from huge limelight and be able to play his game. River want a lot of money for him though, so that is unlikely to happen.

    A better bet to me would be Pablo Piatti at Almeria, he's already had a good season in Spain, he is quicker than Buonanotte and has learnt to play as a winger as well as an enganche.

    Salvio at Lanus is having a great season so far, and if he keeps the form going then he could well earn himself a move. Another one worth keeping track of is Claudio Yacob at Racing, he has been the key to their recent revival to me, he helps shore up the midfield, assures the defence and plays the passes for Luguercio to chase down. A highly influential leader at the club, and he is 21. All the talk has been about Pastore and De Federico recently though, and Pastore looks like he could be a very special talent as things are right now. De Federico has something a little special about how he runs with the ball, but he needs to work on the end product. Another one to throw in the mix, Jose Sand at Lanus has been banging the goals in for a few years now. He's 28, but he would be perfect for a recently promoted team or a lower-Premiership team, because a better out and out goalscorer you will not find easily for a few million quid.

  • Comment number 30.

    clivejagger:How much were River Plate Asking?Couldn't Clubs have negotiated a Joint Ownership?that sounds normal for La Liga Clubs!and Ya Salvio is nice and can play as a Striker and a Winger!And i think he was recently handed his first Senior Cap right?But wasnt he Linked To Juve?and other Serie A Clubs?He plays a bit like Lavezzi doesnt he?

  • Comment number 31.


    Top drawer article! Better than the last two about Brazil (though you would probably expect that comment from me) and definitely more in depth than San Martin's.

    I didn't read the one on Anderson (I don't think he justifies the hype - at least until he gets on the score sheet) but the Messi article is pretty good. Glad to know you saw him in Colombia in 2005 and then in the World Cup -his late goal in the quarters still hurts.

    I thought you would discuss the treatments he had to undergo more in depth. It doesn't surprise me from you as your research is always top notch, but most people don't know he was told he could never make it as a pro.

    I would like to know what you think about Juninho's farewell at Lyon, as well as Bourdeaux's Fernando and Wendel who have them on the brink of the title.

    Also, after last weekend's shameful decisions in Colombia, I was wondering if you could give us a general overview of the refereeing in South America. It seems to me that bad referees are becoming more and more of a problem.

    Great article.

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  • Comment number 34.

    PhilosophicalCyborg; Diegito played Salvio, Blanco and Defederico in the 3-1 win over Panama in Santa Fe last week, he played only locals and made the most of calling up young players. Buonanotte's asking price as I understood was around 15 m dollars..... interest from Juve and others is often invented to create press and speculation. Pity Maradona didn't play Pastore, he is ideal for europe.... Huracan Campeon!!!

  • Comment number 35.

    9. Apparently Arsene Wenger told Steve Bruce about Valencia and Palacios. I would'nt have thought all premier league teams have south american scouts. The top 4 and maybe a few other (Man City, Tottenham)will have scouts or contacts in all major footballing nations. I dont think most of the other clubs have the finances to place scouts in all corners of the globe.

    Does anybody know of a good website with up to date reliable information on South American football also with some sort of highlights? Most of the sites i find through google are very poor.

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