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Mexico mounts multiple Copa challenge

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Tim Vickery | 08:14 UK time, Monday, 8 February 2010

One of the less orthodox after effects of swine flu is the headache it gives the administrators of South America's premier club competition.

In last year's version of the Copa Libertadores, two Mexican sides, Chivas Guadalajara and San Luis, made it out of the group phase.

But how could they stage the home leg of their second round ties? It was at the height of the swine flu epidemic, with Mexico at its epicentre.

The South American Federation unsuccessfully tried to find an alternate venue, gave up and announced that the fate of the Mexican clubs would be decided on a single match, the away leg.

Chivas and San Luis pulled out in protest, and Mexico - which is in North America and participates in the tournament on an invitation basis - broke off relations with South American football.

new_swineflufan595x335.jpgA Chile Everton fan wears a face mask in 2009 as his team take on Mexico's Chivas


It didn't last. There is too much to be gained from the current arrangement.

Mexico's clubs take part in a top class, traditional competition, while TV money for the South Americans is boosted by the exposure to the massive Mexican market.

A peace formula was soon found. Part of it was that Chivas and San Luis would be reinstated in this year's version of the Libertadores - at the stage where they pulled out in 2009.

So the group phase kicks off this week, but the Mexican pair don't have to go through it. They are already through to the second round.

This means that the group phase of the 2010 Libertadores will be the most competitive in the 51 versions of the competition. For many years, the group phase was a phoney war.

Twenty teams went in to it, just five were eliminated and the other 15 joined the holders in the knock out rounds. Then, a decade ago, the competition was expanded, with 32 teams chasing 16 slots.

This year, because of the automatic qualification of Chivas and San Luis, there are only 14 slots available - and coming second in the group will not guarantee one of them. Only the eight group winners and the six best runners up will make the cut.

The pressure is on right from the start.

With the two extra Mexicans, and also a brief qualifying round, a record 40 clubs are taking part in this year's Libertadores. The competition has come a long way since it kicked off in 1960 with just seven participants.

The early giants, who carved up the first four titles, were Penarol of Uruguay and Santos of Brazil. Their two countries, though, saw the Libertadores through very different perspectives.

For Uruguay it was a godsend . A population of only three million placed an inevitable limitation on the possibilities of domestic football. International club competition soon became a necessity - and with a pair of big clubs (Nacional as well as Penarol), the Uruguayans lobbied for the Libertadores to be expanded from one team per country to two.

veron_copa595x335.jpgArgentine team Estudiantes and their captain Juan Sebastian Veron celebrate winning the 2009 Copa


When they were successful in 1966, Brazil pulled out in protest. Giant and relatively isolated from its Spanish-speaking neighbours, Brazil could do without the Libertadores. Santos opted not to take part. They would rather travel the world playing lucrative friendlies. And in 1969 and 70, as well as 66, there was no Brazilian participation.

Times have changed - especially since Brazil conquered hyper-inflation in the mid 90s. Previously, the clubs could meet their commitments by paying late. Suddenly they were living in the real world. And over time, the penny dropped that the Libertadores, expanded and with increased TV money, was a much more interesting competition than Brazil's obsolete state championships - from both a financial and a footballing point of view.

The Libertadores is now the number one objective of Brazilian clubs. With motivation high, the currency strong and a longer national domestic league introduced in 2003, Brazil's representatives have become the teams to beat in the Libertadores. They have provided seven of the last 10 finalists, and last year supplied four of the last eight. But in each of the last three years, the title has eluded them.

This year's contingent looks like the biggest display of strength in depth that Brazil has ever sent to the Libertadores - spearheaded by Corinthians, desperate to record their first win in their centenary year.

If lack of maturity on the big occasion has been the problem in recent finals, it shouldn't apply to Corinthians. Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos are part of a squad rich in veterans, apparently hand picked to withstand the pressure of the campaign.

Where is the threat going to come from for them and their compatriots? Part of the charm of the competition is that you can never be entirely sure.

The Libertadores always has the potential to throw up a surprise.

Some trends can be identified, though. Uruguay has seven titles, but none since 1988. Paraguay has three (all Olimpia, who have not qualified), but local standards have suffered since Mexican clubs have been buying so many Paraguayan players.

Colombia has two titles, and threatened to become a force in mid-decade, but have since fallen badly backwards.

Ecuador has one title - the rising force of LDU in 2008. But they just failed to qualify this year. Chile has one title, but though there are slight signs of a revival, it is years since a Chilean club made a serious challenge.

Mexico has never won, though their clubs have put in some splendid performances since they were invited in 12 years ago. And this year they have four teams in the field, with Chivas and San Luis, as we have seen, already in the last 16.

But the obvious place to look for likely challengers is Argentina. Between 1963 and 79 there was always an Argentine club in the final, giving the Libertadores a special place in the country's footballing culture.

The country can boast 22 wins to Brazil's 13, with two in the last three years. Last year's win was emblematic. Estudiantes threw off their own poor start to deservedly win the trophy in a campaign where all their compatriots were eliminated early.

There is a fascinating aspect to the Argentine representation in 2010. In a year full of powerful Brazilian clubs, none of the traditional Argentine big five have qualified - only the third time this has ever happened.

Can the likes of little Banfield, current Argentine champions, do battle against the Brazilians? There is an excellent gauge of the two countries' strengths in the first week. On Wednesday Velez Sarsfield, probably the strongest of the Argentine sides, host Cruzeiro of Brazil, last year's beaten finalists.

It is a wonderful way to get the 51st Libertadores out of the blocks - especially as there is a chance that only one team from the group will reach the next round.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag;


I was wondering if you had any information on the condition of Salvador Cabanas, the Paraguayan striker who was shot in the head in Mexico City. Is he likely to recover?
I believe he was a shoe-in for a World Cup place, do Paraguay have anyone to replace him?
Sam Cooper


His recovery seems to be surprising the doctors. He even told his dad that he'll be playing in the World Cup, though that would seem to be pushing it too far.

He was Paraguay's top scorer in qualification, and after not getting on the pitch in the last World Cup, would have been in the team this time.

Even without him, though, Paraguay have some attacking options - Santa Cruz and Haedo Valdez, Benitez
and a choice of rangy, left footed forwards.

Eurocentric readers will probably be thinking of Benfica's Oscar Cardozo. Paraguayans, meanwhile, might have more faith in the very promising Pablo Velasquez of Libertad.


I have a question about striker Keirrison. Great at Palmeiras and on the radar again with his move to Fiorentina, but why do you think he has not shone at Benfica? Is it too early to doubt him? And do you think he will succeed in Italy?
Thomas Liekens

Not the slightest surprise that he hasn't been an instant smash in Europe. This was an easy one to predict.

He left Brazil as a competent right footed finisher who couldn't do a great deal else.

And you only have to look at the unbelievably bad marking on the goal that Robinho scored for Santos this weekend to realise that Keirrison would be taking a step up that he might not have been ready for.

Another problem is that Benfica were scoring so freely without him, meaning that there were few opportunities for him to pick up what he most needs - first team playing time.

There is potential there. One of the factors that might determine his fate at Fiorentina is how successfully he's been working to widen his game over the last few months.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog as ever, good to see Robinho back at Santos and coming off the bench to score to the winner. How was his overall performance, does he look more at home?

    I also noticed that Pele's son(?) is at Santos. Is he a good prospect or are the expectations going to be just too much and likely to ruin a career?

  • Comment number 2.

    Good article Tim - I personally don't agree that the Mexican clubs should be in the last 16 from the start - it's a new year and the slate should be wiped clean. It does however lead to a more interesting group stage, something that continental tournaments are often criticised for due to predictability.

    Is the group stage seeded at all for the Copa?

    http://www.worldfootballcolumns.com

  • Comment number 3.

    Not surprisingly, Tim could not acknowledge Robinho's brilliance in the way he executed his goal against Sao Paulo. It is a typically English attitude of regarding only themselves as the best. I guess if it was Rooney we would be hearing nothing but how he is the best player in the world and comparable to Pele! English fans will be lost for words if Robinho goes on to shine for Santos and wins the world cup in June with Brazil. English fans are usually unforgiving towards foreign players who take time to adapt to the EPL while very few of their players succeed elsewhere.

  • Comment number 4.

    3 - Rather harsh I feel.

    If one thing is clear from reading Tim's blog, it is that he has no clear English bias.

    As for Robinho's goal, regardless of his brilliance to score it, Tim was making the point that the defending in this case was very poor...

    No need for any feathers to be ruffled...

  • Comment number 5.

    3. How can you accuse someone who writes a blog on South American football of xenophobia?

    Why hasn't a Mexican club won the Copa yet? Certainly until recently they seemed to have more money than the South American clubs.

  • Comment number 6.

    Post #3 - What?!

    I presume this is the first time you've read this blog. There are several other bloggers on the BBC who appear to be utterly ignorant of goings on outside England and who regard foreign players as morally suspect divers and cheats.

    Suffice to say Mr Vickery is not one of them.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am surprised that a Mexican team has not won a Copa Libertadores yet considering how strong their domestic league has become and it's relative wealth, that they have been integrated in South American football for enough time now and, in particular, they have faired so well in the Copa Sudamerica since they became involved.

    www.sweetleftfoot.com

  • Comment number 8.

    @ #3 - George:


    Read the "about this blog" note at the top right of this page:
    "A glorious history, a rich culture, a production line of exciting players... South American football is endlessly fascinating. I cover the continent from my base in Rio."

    He loves South American football so much he moved continents for it - to cover it.

    Surely if he was only focused on the EPL, and all that other nonsense you spouted out. He'd never have left at all? He clearly thinks more of South American football than he does of any other..

    If you are annoyed at the "general" English attitude towards the game, that's fine - you're wasting your time, but that's fine..
    However, you should actually find out a little information about your target before you rant your rants in the direction of the wrong person. Or, in the end.. you just look like a fool.

    Grow up kid. Most of us wont lose sleep over Robinho having a good year or not. He's just one footballer - a drop in the ocean, so to speak - there are thousands of players out there.

  • Comment number 9.

    #3 - As already highlighted, youre dead wrong about Tim Vickery's blog.

    Accuse me of xenophobia if you like, but i wouldn't take Robinho at any club, i think he is a joke of a footballer. He may have skill in abundence, but makes up for that by having nothing between his ears...

  • Comment number 10.

    Hey man. It is a crazy thing that a mexico team has not won the tournament. I think I would have to want to say that the Necaxa team of 2000 was their best chances. They had a man in Aguinago who I think is the greater player to play in that country, just a shame he wasn't german otherwise he woauld be known as a mattheaus, a sammer or a Uwe Rosler. They also has a player known as Cabrera who was a like man to roberto carlos, and the Argenitina man Zarate who I think was the uncle of mauro zarate looked was a threat in big ways. But they failed to win, my thought was they had a perfect team but for a striker to score your unusual goals, which is why their decision not to sign Luis Hernandez cost them a big deal.

    He was possibly better a player then Hugo Sanchez but never got a big move abroad like Hugos. I like this is a regret for me and nexaca

  • Comment number 11.

    Tim, nice blog as usual.

    #3
    Is this your first time to read Tim's blog?
    Try to do your homework before you criticise. Apologise please.

  • Comment number 12.

    Taking for granted the erroneous criticisms levelled in post #3 it's interesting to see how swiftly people have reacted to staunchly defend Tim and his views. By contrast messrs Mcnulty & Bose (to name but a few) are regularly panned for their utterances on this site.

    To my mind Tim's columns are indeed the most thought provoking on here, although I would contend that he is helped by the vast geogrpahical area he covers and our romantic attachment to South American football.

    That said, such vehement responses to these blogs only serve to highlight the tribal nature of football supporters in general. Is it not possible to analyse each piece objectively and on it's merits.

    Either way, keep up the good work Tim!

  • Comment number 13.

    Tim

    I wondered what your thoughts are on the possibility of MLS teams joining the Copa Liberatores. Do you think it will ever happen and, if so, when and how do you think they would fare now if they were in it?

    Perhaps they should dip their toe in the water with the Copa Sudamerica first? Would this ever be entertained?

    Personally I think it would be important if they did if just for the growing and increasingly influential Hispanic diaspora in the States.

    http://www.sweetleftfoot.com

  • Comment number 14.

    #3 - Thanks for the heated opinion, but you're wrong, as has been pointed out several times already. Mr Vickery here quite often slates the English media generalisations. He has a much more rounded opinion of world football which makes his blog the only one worth reading on the BBC.

    English fans will not be lost for words if Robinho plays well and wins the world cup, but instead will be questioning why he couldn't do the same in the EPL. Robinho settled in very quickly in England and produced some great football last season (at Eastlands, not away from home) and all we have quesitoned is his work rate, commitment, attitude towards his club and lack of effort to put in the hard work the EPL requires, which using your comparison, are the same reasons we love Rooney, he never stops working hard. Admittedly doesn't have the same natural flair and skills as Robinho, but is a much more effective player.

    ANd as for successful exports, Steve McMannaman (sp?), David Beckham, Michael Owen (on stats at least) and Gary Lineker all did well in Spain and were successful in their own ways. Paul Gascoigne, David Platt and Ian Rush (I know he's Welsh) all did well in Italy. Owen Hargreaves is effectively Canadian but played for England, did brilliantly at Bayern. Jermiane Pennant and Jay Bothroyd both went abroad and didn't do so well, but not all can. The only reason so many English players stay in England is because they can't earn as much abroad as at home, where as Brazilians quite often go abroad because they can earn more. It is not so much to do with talent but more about the financial side of things as is everything in this modern world.

    Tim, great article as ever, would love to hear your thoughts about how English players would do in the Brazilian leagues were there ever one to move across? Or am I just stoking the fire?? ;o)

  • Comment number 15.

    One of the reasons Mexican teams never do that well in the Libertadores is that the best teams never seem to play anymore. Over the course of the year the 2 winners of the Opening and Closing seasons (as well as the runners up) have to play in the North American Champions league. Toluca, Pumas, Cruz Azul and Santos are all barred this year. One look at the league table this and last year show that San Luis are struggling at best and there are far better teams in Mexico.

    As for their best chance, Cruz Azul did take Boca Juniors to a penalty shoot out in the 2001 final.

  • Comment number 16.

    3 - superb little flick by robinho for the goal, but - and this was a first for me - i was surprised to see his marker trying to play offside on a cross pulled back from near the byeline. Honestly, you wouldn't expect to see it in under-15 football.

  • Comment number 17.

    hello again Phil
    yet another interesting article, my tip for the copa is flamengo, Adriano just looks incredible in that team, if they can keep him fit and healthy (and off the Drink) they`ll certainly be in with a shout.

    wanted to know if you could tell me a little more about Eduardo Salvio, He`s just signed for Atletico and from what i`ve read he`s thus far only made 40 apps/11 goals for Lanus, Whats all the fuss about?

  • Comment number 18.

    13 - in a purist kind of way, i hope it doesn't happen (MLS clubs in the Libertadores). I feel a but uneasy about the Mexican presence.

    Problem with USA involvement is not just the travelling time - it's the fact that the other concacaf nations are left high and dry. Concacaf has its own - recently relaunched - champions league. If the financiallly most attractive clubs from the region come into the libertadores, then where does that leave the other concacaf nations - the ones that really need building up?

  • Comment number 19.

    Why hasn't a Mexican team won the Libertadores? Well, it is difficult to win away in Latin America - the distances, the hostile crowds, the different environments/altitudes...and the referees. As Mexicans teams are only invited to play in the tournament, there is some resentment against them, particularly as the money available in the game has attracted a lot of South American talent to the north.
    Chivas had a particularly torrid time a few seasons back at the Bombonera - the kind of bias shown by the referee (and the local police) would not have been permitted in Europe. The club has got off to a racing start with 4 wins out of 4 and have an exciting prospect up front in el Chícharo, who I'm sure will be bound for Europe in the not-too-distant future. It could be Mexico's year.

  • Comment number 20.

    nice blog m8, my personal favourites in south america have allways been river plate because of the shirts and they produce great players too:)

  • Comment number 21.

    Mexico usually faces huge hostility in South America as it’s seen as an outsider being from North America, this was clearly highlighted with the swine flu crisis. In football, money has the last word and eventually the MLS teams will be invited, I personally will be delighted to see a truly Pan-American tournament. Similarly I think the Copa America will blend with the CONCACAF competition much to the dislike of those “purists”.

  • Comment number 22.

    Good preview of this year's Libertadores, Tim. The Mexican situation is unfortunate, but they are exceptional circumstances. Estudiantes Tecos have already been eliminated so that leaves just four Mexican sides in the competition.
    However, as you alluded to, I can't see past a Brazilian winner this year. Their sides have lost the two last finals; it can't be three on the bounce! A repeat of what happened in 2008 would be interesting though. I just don’t see a surprise package.
    In response to the question regarding Salvador Cabañas, check out the following article which goes beyond his shooting to look at the theme in more depth - http://elchuncho.co.uk
    Look forward to more,
    El Chuncho

  • Comment number 23.

    Neymar has really impressed me and looks very similar to a young Robinho, do you think he will become a world star?

    And I know Dunga is not the biggest fan of Pato but surely he will definately be in the World Cup squad?

  • Comment number 24.

    15 - Thanks Andrew, I couldn't work out why Los Pumas weren't appearing, given that they won the 2009 Clausura. I take a keen interest having kind of adopted them after travelling through Mexico for a few months. That's kind of annoying if they have to play in the Concacaf equivalent, but maybe for the best a) for their chances in the Clausura this year and b) for the likes of Israel Castro, Efrain Juarez and Pablo Barrera hoping to appear in the World Cup.
    How do the financial incentives of success in Mexico compare with competing in the Libertadores?

    Playing in the Libertadores must surely take its toll on the players from Mexican clubs, especially with the condensed timescale for the Clausura this year. From this year's teams, which players are likely to make the squad for El Tri? I hope they'll still have some energy left by June...

  • Comment number 25.

    Having watched the goal, I don't think anyone can deny how shocking the defending was...to be able to run from their own penalty area without a single challenge is unreal!!!

    It's all well and good being able to perform these flashes of skill in a training ground situation but trying to pull it off with JT up his @r$e is another story...

  • Comment number 26.

    Mr Vickery,

    I wouldn't underestimate the Argentine teams just yet. Yes, there is no Boca or the big teams but little Banfield at this moment is a better more complete team than Boca. It seems that all the "big" teams are more or less at equal grounds with the smaller teams.
    Questions:
    What do you think is the reason for the crisis of the "big" Argentine teams?
    Do you think this trend will continue in Argentine football?

  • Comment number 27.

    Great post. A Mexican team, Pachuca, won the Copa Sudamericana a few years back. Granted they're two very different competitions I can see a Mexican team winning the Libertadores in the near future. I hope it doesn't happen for I am a purist.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Tim,

    A more reserved comment this week. I promise!lol

    Living in Mexico i'll obviously be interested to see how the Mexican sides get on. I'm not a big fan of Mexican football, particularly their lack of tactical savvy, but then that's true of most of the teams in the competition.

    I do like Chivas though, & think of them as the "Mexican Arsenal" for their style of play, with lots of forward movements and positional changes to move around opposition defences. They really do play lovely attacking football at times, but I think they'll struggle physically against the best teams in the competition, & to have a really prolific goalscorer.

    I do have to make my customary negative point about altitude though. As you're well aware I hate it, & honestly stops me from taking the Libertadores or Sudamericana seriously. Don't you think that with only the best 6 2nd places in the groups qualifying it gives an even bigger advantage to the teams playing at altitude? One big win (which is guarenteed to happen) and you're through if you finish 2nd, whilst the teams playing nearer sea level won't have the liklihood of that happening to see them through.

    What do you think Tim? To me it's a joke that it continues & can skew the success of teams like Quito (sorry, but I still believe without altitude they'd have got nowhere near their recent continental titles).

  • Comment number 29.

    This is just my personal opinion, throwing it out there, but I find the whole idea of Mexican clubs in the Libertatores really against the grain of how footbal should be run. It's very much like Australia becoming an 'Asian' footballing nation to suit their own needs.

    Don't get me wrong, if I ran or owned a Mexican club I'd probably prefer the Libertatores to Concaf, but Mexico just isn't South American, no matter how you squint your eyes at the map or twist the context. It seems to me (admitedly an outsider uneductaed on the subject) a move solely motivated by Mexican clubs desire to generate higher profiles and revenues.

    This may be understandable, and it may seem harmless enough but apply this allowance accross the board and World football as we know it would morph out of all recognition. The Old Firm playing in England, half of East Asia moving into UEFA, Man Utd playing in a full time Euro League or countries like Austia and Switzerland merging their national teams to increase competetiveness. All these ideas would seem justifiable using Mexico's logic to be included in the Libertadores. I just don't like it.

    Nothing against Mexican clubs, their motives are understandable and good luck to them now they're in, the fault lies with FIFA surely for allowing concaf to be dilluted and the Libertadores' purpose to become confused. I don't want to sound nationalistic because I'm not, but isn't the purpose of 'continental competitions' to showcase the best of that continent? Once you expland outside the continent even a bit the whole merit of the tournament seems somewhat lost.

  • Comment number 30.

    hey tim,
    great to see that the numbers of loyal foot soldiers are swelling (#3). Anyway is having mexico in a south american tournament that much different to say israel or kazakstan in an european competition?

  • Comment number 31.

    It’s not so rare for football teams to play outside their geographical location; Israel is one example in Europe. For the Mexican teams the SuperLiga (USA, Canada and Mexico) is financially more rewarding than the Libertadores only not as competitive and reputable.

  • Comment number 32.

    @ 28

    Being a follower of Mexican football, I don't see your analogy of Chivas being the "Mexican Arsenal".

    I am most excited to see Monarcas Morelia being in the Copa Libertadores. In my opinion this is the Mexican club which has been playing the most attractive and consistent football over the past 3 seasons. It is a hopeful season in the Libertadores for the Mexican clubs and possibly a year when one of them could take it. Monterrey, the current champion, can prove to be a difficult side if they can step up their game now that their most important player last season Humberto Suazo is on loan in Spain. San Luis tend to play in runs, good and bad ones, and hopefully by the time the group stage is finished they will be in the midst of one of their good runs seeing as they are automatically qualified into the knockout stages. The other team in the knockout stages, Chivas, is playing good football and if they stay fit they will surely be one of the teams nobody would want to playing in the first knockout round. Like I said earlier my hopes will rest on Morelia going further than any other Mexican club. They play really attractive football and have some good Colombian and Argentine players in their squad. Just to back up my point watch this video of last season's match between Morelia and Chivas:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvM91_MdYTM&fmt=18#t=00m07s

    This was around 3 months ago and most of the players from last season are the same ones this season.

    Great post Tim always look forward to reading your blog.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Tim,

    Excellent and insightful blog as always.

    The Libertadores heads should get the plaudits. Rather than punish Chivas and San Luis for pulling out due to H1N1, the body used thier initiative and reinstated them this season.

    The heads of CAF should review this and use their initiative to rectify their dealing of Togo.

    Look forward to next week's edition.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best regards,
    TDT

    www.thedirtytackle.blogspot.com
    www.manonplatform13.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 34.

    Don't understand what you guys are talking about regarding quality and comptitiveness of soccer in the north.

    The MLS in the last few seasons has it's fair share of epic players (donovan, beckham, angel ruiz) and what's more soccer is becoming a lot more popular amongst high schools than it was in the past. In Canada I would say based on the popularitty of TFC and the future Whitecaps team that soccer is the second most popular sport behind hockey. Also I would say as a whole that soccer will eventually become the most popular sport across our continent. Therefore not only will the capital in concacaf he greater, but so will the challenge.

    I agree with the creation of a pan-America tournament rather than two separate. This shared wealth and shared cultures can only prove to be good for all.

    Finally talk in Calgary says that there is a possibility of launching an MLS franchise, if so can ivey you guys to vote for the name Alberta Forest.

  • Comment number 35.

    Obviously I meant that bit about capital with regards Mexican teams, hence it's relativeness to the blog.

  • Comment number 36.

    @29

    I think Australia is a little bit of a bad example seeing as their local rivals are woeful. And they did previously play Asian teams in World Cup qualifiers in the past (along with New Zealand.) The reason was not just mainly because of their national side are playing minuscule island nations but more so the fact that it was hindering the growth of the domestic game - which of course then funnels up into the national team. A better example would probably be Kazakhstan's decision to join UEFA despite being completely in Asia - a move clearly that resonated with the growing oil wealth in the country and the need to seek some of that UEFA money from playing high profile matches.

    However in the case of Mexico they seemingly want the much easier route of CONCACAF qualification but with the added financial interest of CONMEBOL competitions (Copa Libetadores, Copa America etc.) Its pretty much like say Kazakhstan entering their national team into Asian qualification but still playing their clubs sides in the UEFA Champions League.

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi Tim,

    Big Sao Paulo fan here living in Brasilia. What is your take on this year's Brasilerao? Do you think Santos and their kids can win it, or are Corinthians hot favourites with their experienced line-up (a team of "velhinhos" as I taunt my Corinthians friends)!! I don't think Sao Paulo have enough speed to do any damage or a quality striker (Dagogol never seems to stay on the field long enough)! Or is this finally the year of Inter? Can Flamengo repeat?
    P.S. I agree with your comments on Sao Paulo's shoddy marking. Xandao just let Robinho run free and then appeealed for offiside.....shocking

    Cheers, Mark

  • Comment number 38.

    hi tim

    The greatest striker of all time is doin very well for corinthian(ronaldo just in case you wondered) do you think there is any chance he can/or should be selected???

  • Comment number 39.

    "Brazil's obsolete state championships"

    Ah, that´ll be the lesser known definition of obsolete, meaning "something that is of considerable current popularity, followed closely by several million people, and the subject of intense nationwide media coverage, though which I don´t really care for"

    Rather presenting opinion as fact here I think...

    www.yourlifeisanimpossibility.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 40.

    39 - the rio state championship, nowadays well behind the sao paulo one in prestige and quality, but still by far the second most important in the country - has 16 teams. 4 big ones and 12 small.

    Not one of the games involving 2 of the small teams has pulled a crowd of 2,000. Lots of them have pulled crowds under 100. This has nothing to do with professional football. the state championships have served their purpose - now the people are voting with their feet.

  • Comment number 41.

    Re: 31 & 36

    I think Israel have to be a respected exemption to any geographical rules. It clearly isn't feasible for them to play in their 'local' federation as many of their potential opponents don't recognize their right to play as an independant nation and the security issues arising at every game would be enourmous.

    However I don't have any time for Australia's excuse that their opposition for every WC qualifying was so poor. That's not Australia's fault but neither is it Fiji's or Western Samoa's! It may seem harsh when Australia cruise their group, don't concede a single goal and still have to go through a play off against a South American team like Uraguay or Colombia etc, but that is surely their lot? The idea that Australia playing tiny nations repeatedly will hamper their domestic game but playing teams like Japan or Qatar will somehow ignite a nations passion seems bizarre.

    My point, as I'm getting off topic here re: South America is I don't like ANY nation rejecting their own Geographical Federation for another for monitary reasons or one of increasing competetiveness. I can see nothing in the choice to let Mexican teams play in the Libertadores or Australia be classed as Asian that would also qualify all the potential examples I cited in my earlier comment.

    It's nothing personal against Mexican clubs or Australia etc, it's just I don't like the spirit or ethos of letting national teams chop and change.

  • Comment number 42.

    But that´s one example, and the Carioca is arguably the most ridiculously structured of all the state championships, without enough middle sized teams to make it even vaguely interesting, unlike the Paulista. How many fans would Resende, America, Madureira and the rest get in any competition, state championship or otherwise? Why look at those games and not look at when the big teams play each other, or even when Inter, Gremio, Atletico MG, Palmeiras etc play their games in the interior of their respective states? Brazil doesn´t just stretch from Copacabana to the Maracana - last week I stood in a crowd of 42,000 on a Wednesday night in Recife for Santa Cruz vs Sport, so if you want voting with their feet....

    But let´s not go over all this again, for the third year running I think...

    best

  • Comment number 43.

    @3 Whilst you are right that this does apply to the mainstream British media, I believe Mr Vickery can be excluded from that category

    Indeed, were it Wayne Rooney who scored that goal, we would not hear the last of it. Didier Drogba also scored a fabulous goal against Arsenal at the weekend and I could not believe how lightly the commentators waved it aside like the kind of goal you see week-in, week-out. A delightful piece of skill, cutting in from the right and scoring with his weaker foot. You can also bet that if it was Wayne Rooney who scored that, there would have been looooooooong and pointless articles on the BBC describing his brilliance and how England were about to win the World Cup

    I personally believe England needs to change it's fotballing philosophy. The current appreciation of brawns over brains is not helping and England always get found out when they meet the Spains and Brazils of this world, and you have to beat these kind of team to win the World Cup. On a similar note, I don't know if we're ever gonna attract the likes of Kaka or Lionel Messi to our league with the kind of excessively physical football we play. Even C. Ronaldo could not wait to leave for spain! And he was always complaining about a lack of protection from refs, but we prefer to call it diving. Even Fernando Torres is always injured now since he came to England.

    You need to compare the injury records to key players we have in England to those of Italy and Spain to see what I'm talking about.

  • Comment number 44.

    As usual, I agree 100% with Tim concerning the state championships. There is a recent (last week) development that may be of interest: in RGS (southern most state of Brazil home of Gremio and Internacinal), a judge ruled that a a game shall not be played when temperatures lie in the 40C (anything above 37C). Since it's summer down there, this effectively moves all games to night time. Many journalists think that football should not be played this time of year at all, not only because of the high temperatures but because most people are on vacation away from town.

    Concerning Mexican football and clubs, it may sound harsh but I think they get more praise than they deserve. Please, before someone complains about lack of respect on my part, remember I am talking about the Mexican football team and their league clubs not the country nor its people.
    Respect in football has got to be acquired and Mexican football hasn't done so. Mexican clubs haven't won Libertadores because they were not good enough to do so. The same way the Mexican team has never won a world cup.
    Sometimes, results are all we've got and are indeed the only 'facts' we can take into consideration.

  • Comment number 45.

    "It is a typically English attitude of regarding only themselves as the best."

    What rubbish, the consensus in Britain is that Drogba and Torres are the two best strikers in the country, not Rooney. Before them, who was it? Henry!

    "I guess if it was Rooney we would be hearing nothing but how he is the best player in the world and comparable to Pele!"
    I don't know about that, I'd be more likely to compare him to Puskas... a better player. ;P

    "English fans will be lost for words if Robinho goes on to shine for Santos and wins the world cup in June with Brazil." We really won't, in fact, if it weren't for Tim I doubt we'd even know about it. Also, I doubt anyone would be shocked, let alone lost for words, to see Brazil to pick up the World Cup, you are pretty good at it after all.

  • Comment number 46.

    @45 Then you didn't read that article by one BBC journalist a few months ago where the strikers in England were rated on criteria such as - finishing, pace etc. where it all ended up with Rooney scoring higher than both Drogba and Torres and the inevitable conclusion that he was the best striker in England?

  • Comment number 47.

    #45, as a Brazilian I can tell you that I'd be pretty darn shocked if Brazil were to win this world cup.
    After all, we are going to be fielding the likes of Robinho (who does not deliver for Brazil either), Josue, Elano, Kleberson (yes him!), Gilberto Silva, Nilmar all playing at 2nd tier clubs.

    IMO, Dunga is there to move 180o from the previous stance, and he has done so. However, while he has emphasized discipline (on and off the pitch), he is forgetting that you still need quality to win a competition like the World Cup.

    No, it's not like he has an abundance of "greats" to chose from, and some of the better prospects are just too young to make an impact. With that out of the way, some of his choices are just so poor. It is also incredible to me that Pato won't be playing the world cup for Brazil; being a player who especially shines in tough games against tough sides, I thought he'd be a sure bet for the world cup, perhaps even a starter.

  • Comment number 48.

    @44 Neither Holland, Spain or Portugal have won a world cup; following your own argument they should be written off because they haven't earned your respect. Mexican clubs have not won the Libertadores because they have not taken part long enough in the competition but eventually they will and the same goes with the Copa America.

  • Comment number 49.

    #48, your point? they certainly don't deserve the same respect as say Italy, unless you want to ignore history (even recent history). Holland is an exception though; they've made finals so many times and played well consistently that I feel they've earned their place in the game. Spain and Portugal? Certainly not! Mexico hasn't reached the semis ever! Mexico also have not been able to eliminate a top national team ever.

    Will any of that change soon? I don't know and I am not one to say Spain is a favorite. They may have a shot, but that possession style isn't that effective at the WC.

    Back to libertadores subject, I fee that this year and the following years will be the toughest for a mexican club to win it. BTW, I also feel they should not be playing LIbertadores as it is a SA competition. Brazilian Economy is in good shape, which has made the Brazilian clubs more competitive then before.

  • Comment number 50.

    Tim, I am a big fan of your column, but please do not call Mexico North America. I would prefer Central America. Although you are entirely correct from a geographical view, just a look at the culture, the people, the language, the blood shows why often the uninformed who do know or look at it from a geographic viewpoint actually confuse Mexico by thinking Mexico are in North America - which they are, but I am trying to create rhetoric/argument here for open discussion!! lol :)

    I was born in Merida, Mexico (but of a british father) and believe that mexico is right and should demand to play in competitions such as the Libertadores. I do appreciate your reasons and they are common sense both politically and geographically sense.

    But in my opinion football is the game of the people. Mexicans society, language, culture and sangre mean they have nothing in common with Canada and America other than their interest in the purchasing power of the Dollar (ok a lot of hispanics now live there but many chinese live in London but that does not make the UK Asian). In fact if the Europeans had not killed off the Native Indians in North America, we could have potentially a trans-american competition (in theory, not contemplating flight times for teams on away legs). As Che Guevara discovered in his early, idealistic, motorbike days: "Creemos, y después de este viaje más firmemente que antes, que la división de América en nacionalidades inciertas e ilusorias es completamente ficticia. Constituimos una sola raza mestiza, que desde México hasta el estrecho de Magallanes presenta notables similitudes etnográficas. Por eso, tratando de quitarme toda carga de provincialismo exiguo, brindo por Perú y por América Unida".
    So although I love your blog, and am facinated by global football, by speaking on behalf of my mexican heritage, I believe Mexico should be a critical part of the Libertadores. Further to this, they have great football teams and money to invest. Latin Americans and the sangre mestiza need to stick together in the competitive globalised world.

    ps I think the british league has been incredibly harsh on Robinho, Imagine if he had slept with his best friends ex! The way the press treat terry and players like Robinho is unjust. If Bergkamp and Henry had been slaughtered like that in their first season, they would have never reached the levels they did.

  • Comment number 51.

    Tim, quick question or two - do you know the latest on Diego Buonanotte of River? Has he been released from hospital after that horrific car crash before New Year? I'm heading out to B's A's in October and will certainly make a River game - at a guess, is there any chance he'll be back to full fitness by then?

  • Comment number 52.

    #50,

    Then I guess we should also bring in Spain.

  • Comment number 53.

    20 you are a person of exquisite taste I hope River have improved before your visit and El Enano Buonanotte will have recovered his best form.
    The Argentine clubs suffer terribly in the first round of the Libertadores as they are killing each other in the Clausura.There have been 3 rounds of league matches in the 8 or 9 days before they play Libertadores this week.This gives the Brasilian clubs playing the almost meaningless state leagues a distinct advantage early on.But if they reach the quarter finals the Argentines are well able to hold thier own 22 wins etc
    I think Velez and Estudiantes are capable of going all the way but so too are Corinthians,Cruzeiro and Flamengo and as usual a big surprise packet will appear.Maybe some of the Ecuadorian clubs will step up to the Level of Liga

  • Comment number 54.

    #52 Thats stupid and just trying to be provocative. Thats the exact opposite of what my post was arguing. Read it again. There existed Central and South Americans before the spanish, portuguese, Dutch, British or any other nations arrived on their ships. But i was just maing a point. If the league grows in North America, then it will make logical sense for Mexico to stay north. But, the fact that the northern equivalent of copa libertadores does not offer the quality the libertadores will, perhaps mexico can compete for the time being. Anyway it was just a suggestion!! The world should be progressive and seek to unify regions not a "you" and "us" mentality.

  • Comment number 55.

    50 - Look solely to culture and Brazil shouldn't be playing the Libertadores, even the name make a reference only to a few spanish countries(Libertadores de América, a.k.a Bolívar and his gang)

    And the Champions League wouldn't make Germans face to face to the Spanish, English and Italians, etc...

    Continental competitions like that ain't "Who's the best on our culture" but "Who's the best on that little piece of planet earth".

    And that creates a very positive "Culture x Culture" thing, because the Germans of Austria tend to support the Germans of Germany on the Champions League, for example.

    That's why the Libertadores is either the "South-American" or the "American" continental competitions, either we exclude the Mexicans or accept the rest(Americans, Hondurans, Cubans, etc)

    If travelling distances are vast, why not a region-based Group phase and earlier knock-out phases?

    There will be a working formula soon for the Liga das Américas, I hope.

  • Comment number 56.

    @50 Thanks a million for the insight.

    It's always nice to read from people who though are British have lived elsewhere and have a deep understanding of another culture (like Tom Vickery).

    Having been born in England but lived most of my earlier years in at least two other continents and elsewhere in Europe I'm always fascinated by any views which are not narrow-minded.

    I translated your Spanish text to mean "We believe, and after this trip more firmly than before that the American division in uncertain nationalities is completely fictitious and illusory. Constitute a single mestizo race, from Mexico to the Straits of Magellan presents notable ethnographical similarities. Therefore, trying to rid myself of provincialism meager load, toast to Peru and United America "

    Fascinating words...words to ponder

  • Comment number 57.

    Sincere apologies, I of course meant Tim Vickery!

  • Comment number 58.

    @ 55 your suggestion "If travelling distances are vast, why not a region-based Group phase and earlier knock-out phases?" is the very positive, I like it.

    And you are absolutely correct about having to invite Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras etc if Mexico were invited.

    Your solution of a knock out phase/preliminary is excellent and would unite the americas. anyway, I did not want to be so extreme in my earlier post! Just thought it was something to ponder.

    @56 thank you very much, the world needs to have an open mind. Love those Guevara words, yo should watch them in the film "The Motorcycle Diaries". The Mexican actor Gael garcia plays Che Guevara and delivers them with great sensitivity.

  • Comment number 59.

    24 goooya - good name

    Have been a Pumas fan for about ten years now, and I think we should see Castro, Barrera and Juárez in the Mexican team, and Verón should make the Paraguayan squad.

    Recent other internationals include Dante López, who is frankly not playing well enough, Leandro, who was unlucky to get injured just as he was making the grade, and Velarde, who also went seriously off the boil. Palencia played recently but as he is well into his 50s (well nearly) and can't hit a barn door he has no chance.

    I feel Mexico still has little chance with the libertadores. There is still some bias from referees and rule-makers towards South american (and particularly Argentinian and Brazilian ) sides, and as has already been pointed out the best teams do not always qualify. When América had their good run they were busy finishing last in Mexico, while there are a good number of teams who can win the Mexican championship (I'd say about ten or twelve). Meanwhile the final places for inclusion are gained in an otherwise pure money-making exercise which is the Interliga played in the US at the beginning of january. Not all managers or clubs take this tournament seriously, even though there is a Libertadores place at stake, and the 8 invitees exclude the best qualified side from the previous year, plus the two champions and runners-up who go into the CONCACAF Champions League. Confused? Needless to say it all means that there is a small chance Mexico will have its current best team playing in the tournament.

    I am a fan of Mexico playing in the Libertadores, and if the central american teams were good enough I would be all for them playing too. Sadly watching Pumas reserves comfortably deal with the best of them before Christmas I am not sure they are quite ready.

  • Comment number 60.

    #46

    and had what, five pages of people calling the blogger an idiot? hardly a consensus. Over here people generally consider Rooney one of the top three, but improving. Torres is injured so people will not write so much about him at the moment and Drogba has been away, as our press likes to write about form they need him to play a few games before waxing lyrical on him... it'll come. So, at the moment Rooney takes the limelight, as soon as he loses his temper the tide will turn.

    Besides, if #3 was correct the article would have been comparing the merits of Rooney, Owen and Heskey :P

  • Comment number 61.

    Hi Tim,
    good to see you're addressing Mexican soccer too. I know you've been asked about it in the past on podcasts and soccer shows. While I do watch South American football, whenever I see you're going to be on a show I definately tune in. Your analysis is very textured, and I would describe you as the "thinking-man's" football commentator/writer. However, you should have your own website so that you can post on what shows you'll be on. I need more of your commentary! Corinthians will win this, by the way.
    "

  • Comment number 62.

    59 - good name also!
    Yeah I have this feeling Mr Pablo Edson Barrera could do something, he's got a bit of spark about him. Wasn't Juarez linked with a move to Barcelona? I must confess I haven't seen that much of him... try to follow them via youtube but it's not easy...

    I actually have a shirt with Leandro - 7 on the back... when I was at the game a few years ago, this guy sitting a few rows behind kept shouting "Leandro Augusto - get out there on the pitch, your pumas need you" and all this kind of stuff at me. I think just because I'm a guero with quite long hair. My mexican friend thought it hilarious.
    I love the half-time obstacle course they have at the stadium, the bit where they spin people around and make them take a penalty against the mascot is absolute comic genius.

    It seems to be it's time to replace Sergio Bernal at the back, am I missing something or is he really not that great anymore?

    "Como no te voy a querer" is one of the first phrases I learnt in spanish, some might say I'm a bit obsessed

  • Comment number 63.

    59 - pulling things slightly back on topic - do you think this is a reason why teams like America and Chivas don't seem too bothered by their league performance? I hear often America are the biggest team by far in Mexico, like their equivalent of Manchester United.
    But I could never imagine Manchester United accepting such poor league performance as America have managed in recent years (though a man can dream!).

    It almost seems like winning the Apertura/Clausura is actually a bad thing as it means you won't qualify for the Libertadores. Unless the Libertadores isn't that big a deal in Mexico.

  • Comment number 64.

    Hi Tim, great blog as usual

    As somebody who spent a lot of years growing up in this region, I predict it is just a matter of time until Conmebol and Concacaff merge into one. There is no geographical issue there since most people there call the whole region America - one continent- (from Alaska to Chile - subdivided in 3 sub-regions - North America, Central American & South America)- one large area - Aerica, the US is the US, [no America as more people from the area will say, the US is trying to take the term from everybody else].

    The reason of two confederations, it is more political than geographical (if not why Guyana and Suriname -located in the South American sub-region belong to Concacaff and not conmebol)

    Mexican teams being in La Libertadores is now the norm, and Conmebol loves the extra income.

    For the person that said that the name Libertadores de America came from Bolivar. Check the story of the name, in its beginnings they mention Bolivar but also other like San Martin from Argentina, Marti from Cuba, etc, even the Mexican Morelos was on the list as far as I can remember.

  • Comment number 65.

    64 - I said that the Libertadores de America were Bolivar and his gang, I wouldn't waste space talking about the others(I don't even know what the Mexican Morelos are)

    Point was that Libertadores isn't a name that takes the whole continent. The two biggest countries don't even speak spanish, and had nothing to do with the libertadores.

  • Comment number 66.

    No to go into debates but...what about - José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva? Libertadores é o termo usado para se referir aos líderes das guerras e movimentos de indepêndencia - Brazil was part of that group...

  • Comment number 67.

    66 - Brazil paid for its independence, 2 millions of sterling pounds, which was quite a fortune those days(nowadays it won't even buy you 1/40th of Cristiano Ronaldo)

    And as far I remember José Bonifácio was just an idealist who turned to politics. Even the imperial family in Brazil was maintaneed from Portugal, Pedro I said he would step aside his throne in case his father ever returned.

    There was never an "liberation movement" that suceed. I'd call the Inconfidência Mineira one, but it failed, and I don't think Tiradentes deserves the same post of a true hero like Bolívar.

    And still, biggest country in America is the USA and I've never heard of Washington as one Libertador.

  • Comment number 68.

    Mr Vickery, thanks for your weekly posts, and for the constructive contributions from others as well.

    I like having Mexican clubs in the southern tournament: as a South American fan, I get to see top southern players face, again, southern clubs as if they had not migrated at all! Somehow, I also like that small southern clubs get fairer referee calls when Goliath is neither Brasilian nor Argentinian ;)

    Mexican club participation opens doors to top southern players, when the latter are not yet ready for Europe. I guess Mexican clubs benefit too as they get living proof of their future southern prospects.

    Of course, South American national squads benefit, while Mexico's does not. Perhaps one reason why Mexican clubs have declined further participating in the less prestigious Copa Sudamericana tournament.

    Questions for you Tim:
    - do Brasilian clubs hold an advantage in Libertadores because they do not play a Brasileirao at the same time?
    - did they ever play both tournaments within one same semester? if yes, how well did they perform?

    Regards.

  • Comment number 69.

    I think south africa has equal strength with Uruguay, beside that, South Africa is the World Cup host. they would show a good game in front of their supporters. So i think they will beat uruguay. But, Its just my opinion, maybe right maybe wrong.
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  • Comment number 71.

    The South American Federation should have been able to find an alternate venue, giving up and announcing a single match was not fair to the Mexican football team.

  • Comment number 72.

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    I'm sure will be bound for Europe in the not-too-distant future. It could be Mexico's year. itunes gift cards

  • Comment number 76.

    Steve McMannaman , David Beckham, Michael Owen and Gary Lineker all did well in Spain and were successful in their own ways. Paul Gascoigne, David Platt and Ian Rush (I know he's Welsh) all did well in Italy. Owen Hargreaves is effectively Canadian but played for England, did brilliantly at Bayern. Jermiane Pennant and Jay Bothroyd both went abroad and didn't do so well, but not all can. The only reason so many English players stay in England is because they can't earn as much abroad as at home, where as Brazilians quite often go abroad because they can earn more. It is not so much to do with talent but more about the financial side of things as is everything in this modern world.

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  • Comment number 77.

    If I ran or owned a Mexican club I'd probably prefer the Libertatores to Concaf, but Mexico just isn't South American, no matter how you squint your eyes at the map or twist the context. It seems to me (admitedly an outsider uneductaed on the subject) a move solely motivated by Mexican clubs desire to generate higher profiles and revenues. This may be understandable, and it may seem harmless enough but apply this allowance accross the board and World football as we know it would morph out of all recognition. The Old Firm playing in England, half of East Asia moving into UEFA, Man Utd playing in a full time Euro League or countries like Austia and Switzerland merging their national teams to increase competetiveness. All these ideas would seem justifiable using Mexico's logic to be included in the Libertadores. I just don't like it. Rent a car bucuresti | Inchiriaza masina

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