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Copa exits may prompt Brazil tactics re-think

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Tim Vickery | 07:42 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

Asuncion is currently the capital of South American football - and not just because the offices of the continent's governing federation are situated on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital.

Eight teams are left standing in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, and two of them are based in the Paraguayan capital; Cerro Porteno, who have blown hot, cold and lukewarm during the competition, and Libertad, who have been consistently excellent. No other country can boast more than one club in the last eight.

In the case of Argentina, the traditional power in the Libertadores, this is no longer a surprise. It merely repeats the pattern of recent years - but for Brazil, it is a bombshell.

In the last two seasons, Brazil has provided four of the last eight, and something similar seemed on the cards this year after five Brazilian clubs qualified for the first knockout round, where they all managed to avoid each other.

But last Wednesday four of them were eliminated, only Santos made it through to the quarter finals - Brazil's worst showing by far since 1994, when just three teams reached the last eight.

Former Brazil star Falcao, now coach of Internacional, reflects on their defeat by Penarol - photo: Getty

What makes this more surprising is that the current strength of Brazil's currency and the country's economic progress is reflected in the squad lists - high-profile players have been returning home of late and promising youngsters are staying at home longer.

A sizeable economic gap has opened up between the Brazilian clubs and their opponents from other South American nations. So how on earth could those clubs have suffered such a disastrous night?

The short answer is that the opposition played better. Only one Brazilian club, reigning champions Internacional, could claim, on the balance of play over two games, to have been unfortunate. A terrible five-minute spell just after half-time in the second leg cost them dear in a 3-2 aggregate defeat by Penarol of Uruguay.

The rest could have no complaints. Gremio were deservedly beaten home and away by Universidad Catolica from Chile and although Libertad left it late to score the goals to earn a 4-3 win over Fluminense, the superiority of the Paraguayans in both games was undeniable.

The most surprising elimination, however, was that of Cruzeiro, who won the first leg 2-1 away to Colombia's Once Caldas, only to be turfed out 2-0 at home.

As for Santos, they rode their luck to beat America of Mexico 1-0. But for a superb performance from goalkeeper Rafael, Brazil's interest in the 2011 Libertadores would have ended already.

Trying to find a pattern behind these events is not easy - thankfully and gloriously, football defies such neat categorisations - but there are some factors which would seem to have a bearing.

One is a lack of emotional control. True, over the last 20 years Brazil has been replacing Argentina as the leading force in the Libertadores, but on the last five occasions that teams from the two countries have met in the final, the Argentines have come out on top.
Brazilian sides can self destruct when the stakes are high - remember the national team against Holland in last year's World Cup.

This time, Gremio striker Borges got himself stupidly sent off in the first half of the first leg; Cruzeiro attacking midfielder Roger did the same in the first half of his side's return match and, in the image of the week, Cruzeiro coach Cuca stuck an elbow into the face of an Once Caldas player.

Diego Amaya (right) celebrates scoring for Once Caldas against Cruzeiro - photo: Reuters

Another factor is the calendar of Brazil's domestic football. For months, leading clubs have been cruising through meaningless games in the appalling state championships but now these competitions have reached their climax, with big local derbies - at the very moment that the Libertadores gets serious.

It is not easy to fight on two fronts. Cruzeiro paid the penalty. Top scorers in the Libertadores, they faced Once Caldas on Wednesday without their three leading strikers, all injured the previous weekend.

But emotional fragility and poor domestic organisation are not new. It was the same last year, and the year before, when Brazil dominated the Libertadores. So is there some new factorto explain this season's early exits? I believe there might be.

Current Brazil boss Mano Menezes is a shrewd observer of the international scene. When he was appointed, he mentioned a trend he was observing in Europe: "Coaches took out nearly all the strikers from their teams. Now they're putting them back."

This dynamic has reached South America - and it has caught the Brazilian clubs unprepared. Specifically, they are not set up to deal with opponents who come at them with three up front and attack the wide spaces.

Brazil invented the back four, dropping an extra player to the heart of the defence to provide cover. It pushed the full-backs out wider and gave them more freedom.

When wingers disappeared and there was no one to mark, Brazilian full-backs became attackers, charging up with the flanks in glorious style - in the 1950s Nilton Santos was charging forward from left-back and everyone remembers Carlos Alberto's brilliant final goal from right-back in the 1970 World Cup final - but over time, clubs ran the risk of becoming over-dependent on them for launching the attack.

As a result of this counter-atacking strategy, central midfielders took on more defensive tasks and gave up their previous responsibility for setting up the play.

Brazilian clubs had a warning of the changing times in 2008, when LDU of Ecuador beat Fluminense in the Libertadores final. The Ecuadorians went with two wide strikers, and throughout 90 minutes of the first leg and 120 of the second the Brazilians were unable to find a response.

Throw the full-backs forward, and there is too much space behind. Keep them back and without its usual 'out' ball the midfield struggles to maintain controlled possession.

Once Caldas, with their fascinating coach Juan Carlos Osorio, overcame Cruzeiro by employing wide strikers. Libertad dominated Fluminense with a bold 4-3-3. Universidad Catolica showed spells of patient midfield possession that Gremio were unable to match.

The end result of all this will surely be positive. Brazil's tradition of attacking full-backs is a wonderful thing, and should not be jettisoned but defeat always presents an opportunity for reflection and football can only benefit if Brazilian clubs add more options to their game by re-activating their earlier tradition of imaginative central midfield play.

In the short term, too, there is something to celebrate. Seven countries are represented in the last eight of the Libertadores. It is not healthy when one country becomes too dominant - though they may not agree down in Paraguay.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick up a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I recently saw Lucho Gonzalez having a solid game for Marseille, do you think he has a future in the Argentine national side, or will coach Sergio Batista attempt to implement younger players?
Mark Colman

A) No, I think his time has gone. Batista has Banega, Mascherano and Cambiasso, he likes Biglia and there's Gago to come back after injury, so I'd be surprised if Gonzalez gets another go.

I don't think his international career ever really recovered from the 2006 World Cup elimination against Germany. That controversial move when the coach substituted Riquelme was not supposed to alter the flow of the side - the idea was that Lucho would step up and boss the midfield. It didn't happen.

Q) I'm a big fan of Riquelme as he is just a joy to watch every time! Do you see Riquelme being able to return to the Argentina national team? He was not picked for the team when Maradona was in charge following their bust-up and hasn't had the best run of games for his club. Do you think he still has something to offer to the current squad or is it really the end for him?
Nico Man

A) Interesting one, where perhaps the most sensible answer is 'never say never.'
Indeed, Riquelme has been hampered by a run of injuries and by the fact that Falcioni, the current Boca Juniors coach, doesn't usually build his sides around an old fashioned number 10. Given the fact that Riquelme is now coming up 33, it might be easy to conclude that he has no way back.

But national team boss Batista is a huge admirer, and it might not take much of a resurgence from Riquelme for him to contemplate a recall. He would have to rejig his side - you couldn't fit Riquelme into his current 4-3-3. I wouldn't bet on a recall, but it is by no means impossible.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great column, Tim. Really enjoying your insight in South American football.

    On the subject of the reason why four of the five remaining Brazilian teams were knocked out in the last 16 do you think it could be arrogance? Like you said Brazil's economy has in recent years experienced a economic boom meaning they can easily keep their star youth players and attract seasoned veterans with good wages.

    Could you argue economic prosperity leading to retention of star players among Brazil's clubs led to complacency in the knockout stages of the Copa Liberatadores which was exposed during the round of 16? You could see it in the matches where Brazilian teams were involved with bouts of indiscipline that cost them dear along with underestimating the opposition in terms of the tactics they played against the Brazilian teams.

    Moreover, out of the eight teams that remain in the competition who do you will think will win the coveted Copa.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tim,

    Even though I have no particular interest in South American football I always find your articles to be well worth the read.

    I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the state of football in Mexico. (technically not South American I know!!) For a county with a population of over 100 million people and a reputation as a football mad country they seem to keep a very low profile on the winners podium both in international competition and in the libertadores. Is there a good explanation for this?

  • Comment number 3.

    it seems Brazilian club football and even their soccer in general is taking a bad swerve.
    I live in Nigeria, Africa and over the years we've know Brazilian clubs dominating their continental clubs championships. I hope they would get their laces tightened up. Remember Brazil 2014 anyone? I am seeing their young talented players moving over to Europe if the trend continues to have good chances of making their final world cup squad

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting that you attribute a tactical flaw as the reason why Brazilian teams are failing, is this on the assumption taht all Brazilian sides set their teams out in the same way?

    Here in England this is very much the case, with often a central Striker supported by two Wide forwards, and a 3 in midfield, often with one anchoring.

    Are there any variances in the way the Brazilian sides set up, who is the innovative coach with the new formation?

    What Brazil appear to have lost in recent times are two things - a skillful poacher of goals, ie a Romario, Bebeto, Jardel, Elber etc.

    They also appear to have lost a lot of creative midfield players, ie Socrates, Jair, Rivelinho, Bismarck.

    Are any Brazilian coaches looking to mould teams around the older systems of playing, and with what players?

  • Comment number 5.

    Good article though.
    Tim how about doing something also for the Orange CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE and the less glamorous CONFEDERATIONS CUP.
    I think it would also be interesting as the last 2 winner have all come from West Central Africa, power shift from the perennual North Africa.
    I enjoy watching football.
    What a game?

  • Comment number 6.

    With Cerro Porteno and Libertad getting to the last 8, I wonder how traditional Paraguayan powerhouse Olimpia are feeling ??

    I believe they have not won the paraguayan championship for a decade now

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Tim, big fan, keep writing! Do you think there is any chance that one day countries like Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana could ever take a part in South American football despite their small populations? Maybe they do already and I don't know?

  • Comment number 8.

    Good point about the 4-3-3 with 2 old fashioned wingers. barca started it again about 5 years ago and no one seems to have figured out how to deal with it since. I think it will just lead to the 5-3-2 coming to the fore again as it did in the mid ninties, like Dortmund and Juve used to do.

  • Comment number 9.

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

  • Comment number 10.

    5. At 10:16am 9th May 2011, Normal9jabluerule wrote:
    Tim how about doing something also for the Orange CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE and the less glamorous CONFEDERATIONS CUP.
    I think it would also be interesting as the last 2 winner have all come from West Central Africa, power shift from the perennual North Africa.


    Clearly you've missed this part: "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." Maybe you should instead be suggesting that the BBC get a blogger to cover African football, and if so I would agree, but please, Tim, carry on in South America. Your work is always a highlight of my week, and covers much more interesting subject matter than most of the rest.

  • Comment number 11.

    Countries like suriname and guiana..Don´t want against others countries of south America..They prefer Playing against central America Teams ...

  • Comment number 12.

    2 - With regard to the Libertadores, Mexican teams do have a seriously long way to travel for their away leg games which probably doesn't help.
    As far as international tournaments go, it probably has a lot to do with their region being relatively weak and them not having enough experience of playing the better teams. But as more and more Mexicans move to european teams and USA providing stronger opposition maybe this isn't so true anymore.

    I think it has a lot to do with mentality, they seem to lack self-belief. This seemed very evident last year when it took them until the second half to realise they could beat that France team easily. Against Argentina they only started playing when the result was basically beyond doubt. Maybe you should read The Labryinth of Solitude regarding this, the answers are all there :)

    Whilst I'm on the subject - felicidades a los Pumas de la UNAM jaja como no te voy a querer?

  • Comment number 13.


    Great article.

    Do you think the Brazilian state Championships are an unnecessary distraction for the teams and perhaps contributed to their poor performance in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions league?



  • Comment number 14.

    In addition to sheffieldharry's reply (10), the BBC already do have a blog on African football, written by Piers Edwards-

  • Comment number 15.

    Great read! Brazilian teams do seem to be suffering in defense. Falcao at Internacional has been trying to implement the English 2-lines, but the fullbacks are as attacking-minded as they get (Nei and Kleber).

    Gremio has a poor side with ever poorer options on the bench. Renato, Gremio's coach, doesn't help the situation with his line ups: Gremio play with 2 attacking fullbacks (the left one is actually quite bad at everything); the midfield has Rochemback (as a DM believe it!), a mobile DM (Adilson), Lucio (attacking left-back from Hertha turned into midfielder), and Douglas (AMC who doesn't move much without the football); plus 2 strikers. Gremio concedes 2 goals a game, against any opponent.

    Some other possibilities to consider:
    1. Brazilian sides and their coaches thought they were better than they actually are
    2. Santos made them think that, and led them to play more openly.
    3. Brazilian sides historically do not understand single-elimination (Gremio used to).

    On point #3, playing openly in single-elimination matches is just plain nuts! Mediocre sides have proven over and over again--by going far or even all the way to the final--that defense is everything in that type of competition; not conceding gives you a chance to proceed (of course, also having a competent attack would improve on that).

  • Comment number 16.

    @13 Joan_Burton

    the state championships definitely are an unwelcome distraction. They surely are not helping.

    I think the elimination also goes some way to demonstrate that teams in Brazil are still very far behind the top clubs in Europe, and that the Brazilian league still has a chasm of quality in relation to the top leagues - contrary to what a big part of the Brazilian press and supporters seem to believe. Some humility to recognise that could make the path easier in competitions such as the Libertadores.

    As Tm said there is some improvement with the return of aged stars like Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano, or holding on a little longer to the young prospects, but that is still too little, and the quality of our teams is still way, way worse than it used to be until the 90s.

  • Comment number 17.

    it looks like Brazilian club football and even their soccer in general is taking a bad swerve

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 18.

    Need to clear up somethign in the 5th para - a change the subs made, perhaps because my original text wasn't clear.
    This is Brazil's worst last 8 performance since 1994, when only Sao Paulo reached the quarters - then Brazil only had 3 entrants in the competition - this year there were 6.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hello Tim,

    I think I have just read something similar in this months World Soccer magazine, if I remember rightly I think it may have been you that wrote the article?

    Either way I enjoyed it and lead me to asking this question: Would it benefit Brazilian football if the state Championships were moved to accomodate the Libatadoes or are the State Championships a neccessary warm up for the competition.

    Keep up with the great work.


  • Comment number 20.

    2 - a bit harsh on Mexican football. Since they've been invited into the Libertadores in 1998 they have a pretty good record, their teams twice reaching the final - and the football they play is usually pleasing on the eye as well.
    Their top clubs suffer at this time of year from fixture pile up as well - America, who lost 1-0 on agg to Santos - made the long trip down to Santos for the first leg on Weds, played a big Mexican match on Sunday, rematch with Santos Tuesday, another big domestic game on Thursday - they only brought their top scorer on for the last few minutes in the second leg v Santos.
    It's not my region, but Mexico always seem to clean up in Conccacf - Monterrey won the continental championship a few days ago, beating Real Salt Lake in the final.

  • Comment number 21.

    Great article again.

    It was a good thing 4 out of 5 losing and in the manner of their defeats. As a Santista I am please for the team, but the whole game in Brazil is testing me this year. Too much mindless and wasteful football. The Paulista final (1st leg yesterday) I refused to watch and predicted a 0-0. They have changed the format 5 times in 8 years; the competition what a joke.

    The Libertadores is hardly being covered either in Sao Paulo where I live. Why because their teams didn´t reach the main tournament! In the last three years Sao Paulo teams have even planned and played games at the same time as the Final, with TV opting to show the local game.

    I was raised to be egalitarian so I love things going around so great to see different names left in the libertadores final!

  • Comment number 22.

    8 - the Barcelona point is interesting - it hasn-t really shook Brazilian football yet, though I hope it does Because what Barcelona do was thought to be imposible by many in the Brazilian game.
    Back int he 1970s when Internacional were ruling the roost in Brazil with a wonderful team (it was where Falcao made his name), their influential coach Rubens Minelli was arguing that players, especially in central midfield, had to be 6 foot (1.80) - no place for Xavi and Iniesta!
    Brazilian coaches with their statistical obsession have also been devotees of the idea that if the move contains 7 passes or more, the chance of a goal are greatly reduced.
    Put the two together, and you have teams of big players built for exlosive counter-attacks.
    And then Barcelona come along and show that there is another way.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was at the first leg of the Fluminense -Libertad tie - a game where floodlight failure meant that we didn't kick off until nearly 11 at night!
    I could hardly believe it when I saw the Libertad team sheet - you expect Paraguayan teams visiting Brazil to be cautious, hanging on their own crossbar like a colelction of bats. Instead, they really went for it - and such attacking presence, presenting problems for the hme full backs, meant that they dominated midfield. They lost 3-1 despite being well on top - a couple of momnents of individual genius got Fluminense out of trouble.
    But a week later in the return match there was no hiding place. Without the option of the 'out' pass to the full backs, Flu never had the ball - admittedly, selecting 2 target man centre forwards was a big mistake, but the midfield was unable to put 3 passes together.

  • Comment number 24.

    Another alternative read, Tim. Interesting angle on the non-existant strike forces. Was reading something about this a few weeks ago, in which a passage of play in a Barcelona Man Utd game was cited as an example of centre backs rendered useless and not knowing how to pass the time with no conventional striker to mark and Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al playing in front of and around them. And the inability of full backs to deal with the task in hand that they were originally employed for is a shot in the arm for the attack is the best form of defence brigade, of which I'm one, and dare I say has played a major part in Ferguson's success. That both players and coaches don't seem to have a Plan B or seem unable to wing it is not a good advert for footballers' intelligence. I sometimes think Roberto Mancini sets Man City up as if he were playing against Italian opposition, who he knows play in a certain way with a certain mentality, and when they don't, he's left scratching his head. Aren't Blackpool just meant to turn up, put 11 men behind the ball, roll over, die, and hand over the 3 points?

    Way to go Once Caldas! Might their name be written on the Copa? And worth a bet? I hope Osorio left a bit of that success behind in Manchester for tomorrow night!

  • Comment number 25.

    Another thing harming the circulation of the ball in Brazilian midfields is the absurd criteria used by the referees over here in the last few years - everything is a foul and players are always looking for fouls. Contrast Messi - always on his feet - with Neymar - always on the floor.

  • Comment number 26.

    well... following recent news, I expect Internacional to be completely and utterly crushed by Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munchen at the Audi Cup, this next July.

    Of course, lets not forget that Internacional beat Barcelona in 2006 and Inter Milan in 2008...

    and that despite losing in the end, Estudiantes put a much thougher challenge against Barcelona than 99% of the european teams that Barça faces usually...

  • Comment number 27.

    For those interested, I'm doing Redacao SporTV tomorrow, 10 am local time (the only time I ever get up early, please forgive any attacks of ill humour)

    Also, I'm starting a weekly series of articles this week for the Sambafoot website.

  • Comment number 28.

    Great column, as ever, Tim. 

    You took a little stick earlier in the season over your opinion of David Luiz. After watching him yesterday and looking at Chelsea fans comments, they are now saying he has some elements to his game which need improving on, and may not be the all conquering player they thought they signed. This may yet not be another Rafael Scheidt moment. 

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for the heads up, Ill tune in tomorrow to watch.
    About the State Championships, I agree with you. A complete waste of time in my opinion.
    For anyone who is not aware of how they work, it basically involves months of the top teams brushing aside poor teams from their state in a two group league format where the top teams move onto knockout quarters or semis. The final is then played and a winner crowned. The end? No.....
    Then they do it all over AGAIN, and if the winner of the second tournament is different to the first one, they play in a two-legged final final to decide the winner. If the same team win both (as Flamengo in Rio did this year I believe) then they are crowned state champion. This is how it works in RJ at least, if im not mistaken.

    All this takes place quite some time before the league championship even begins, as well as the same time as the Brazilian Cup.
    This leads to the rather absurd situation of being deep into the Libertadores, almost at the end of the Brazilian Cup (winner gets a Libertadores place) before the league season has even begun in earnest.

    Still, it gives the fans a chance to see a hundred and fifty Flu-Fla, Flu-Vasco, Fla-Botafogo, Botafogo-Vasco, Flamengo-Vasco, SP-Santos, Corinthians-Palmeiras, Palmeiras-Santos etc etc etc, which they seem to enjoy. Personally I find it boring and repetitive.

    In the states with less big teams this is even worse as you have to sit through months of turgid football just to see the predictable Gremio-Inter, CAM-Cruzeiro etc. game just to decide the 'State Champion'.

    It seems the fans love it though, it gives them a chance to celebrate if they win, which Brazilians need no excuse to partake in (Xmas - celebrate, Birthday - celebrate, Easter - celebrate, Carnival - celebrate, Bank Holiday - celebrate, World Cup - celebrate, any one of a million 'Days' eg. Mothers day, teachers day, students day, childrens day, kissing day - celebrate)

    Nothing wrong with this I might add, but a bit annoying when you have celebrating Flamengo fans outside your window singing and cheering until 3am on a Sunday or weeknight, because they beat Olaria or some other Rio powerhouse.....

    If Forest win the playoffs this year though, nobody in Botafogo will be getting any sleep that night I can assure you hahaha

  • Comment number 30.

    Tim, will your wise words be translated in the portuguese and french sections of the Sambafoot website, so that perhaps the coaches in brazilian football can relearn the real joga bonita (i.e. Barcelona's current style of football)?

    Great article as always. Was sad to see Junior bow out, though the return match looked spectacular. Good to see the smaller countries represented in the last 8. I will be following Once Caldas and Penarol for the rest of the tournament.

    I watched some ex-Libertadores players last night at Stade Gerland. To follow on from your answer related to Lucho, which of the following players had the best prospects when he left South America and which do you think has done the best with their talent so far?

    Lucho, Lisandro Lopez, Cesar Delgado, Cris. All four were goalscorers last night and the latter two goals well worth watching.

    Olympique Lyonnais is very proud of its scouting network in South America. They have had a presence there for years already and had some big name players such as Juninho.

  • Comment number 31.

    DO you also think that brazil suffers because the two full back push up they normally put two more midfielders infront of the back 4 who mainly involved with defence. This means that there is a lack of width in the middle of the park there is no player like robben or malouda et al in brazil they seem to either be put into full backs (shown by mainy being played further forward in europe) Does this desire mean that some players might not get contracts or might be played in the wrong position. Surley brazil could play one holding mid two further forward two on the wing and one up front. Or will brazil never change and keep the attacking full backs.

  • Comment number 32.

    Tim comes up with an interesting theory on why Brazilian clubs had such a tough time of it last week, their inability to deal with clubs attacking them with wide players. I have long thought at the national team level the way to beat Brazil was to pin their attacking fullbacks back and make them defend and it seems clubs are coming along to this way of thinking now in the Copa Libertadores. But last week the Brazilian clubs also just did not finish well, particularly Internacional and Cruzeiro who to me were the two favorites heading into the knockout stage of the tournament.

    I thought Internacional did not play poorly against Peñarol but they lost concentration at the beginning of the 2nd half, gave up those two quick goals then just could not breakthrough Peñarol's packed defense after that. First TP Mazembe now Peñarol, that is two clubs who have knocked Internacional out of the last two tournaments and are two clubs they probably should have beaten. How far has Fernando Cavenaghi''s career fallen? With Inter needing goals in the 2nd half he did not get off the bench.

    As for Cruzeiro well in group play they were I thought fantastic playing an almost Marcelo Bielsa style high pressure game then hitting their opponents with quick counter attacks. But a key component of that success Wallyson, their top scorer in the competition, was missing from that 2nd leg match. Juan Carlos Osorio had a great game plan for Once Caldas but Cruzeiro, a club known for not producing in big games, simply played an awful match and did miss Wallyson's speed and eye for goal.

    How about Velez, missing their injured top scorer Santiago Silva but going to high altitude Quito and doing what nobody else has been capable of doing, defeating Liga de Quito? An impressive win by the club who are leading the Argentine league, watch out for tiny attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez (a 2007 U20 World Cup winner), forward Juan Manuel Martinez who has a chance to make Argentina's Copa America team, top scorer Silva who I already mentioned, and one of the rising stars of Argentine football, midfielder Ricky Alvarez. Velez, one of the best run clubs in Argentina have built up a deep and talented team relying a lot on players who have come up from their youth team. I think whichever club emerges victorious from the Velez-Libertad quarterfinal will go on to win this year's Copa Libertadores.

  • Comment number 33.

    32 - and you didn't even mention david ramirez, for my mind the best player in Argentina last year, who came off the bench early and set up both goals for Velez.

    26 - I don't really see what you're getting at - this isn't a europe v south america piece.

    28 - david luiz - promising player, no doubt about it. but lots of defensive deficiencies - honestly, in the france v brazil game in february, benzema against david luiz was more one sided than van basten against tony adams back in 88 - no surprise at all that brazil dropped him after that one.
    I saw on the 606 boards that some Chelsea fans don't think he's good enough - a judgement which is probably as hasty as the one that proclaimed him as a great a few weeks ago - will be fascinating to follow his development - after all, the tony adams who was turned over by van basten grew into a much better centre back.

  • Comment number 34.

    33 - As a Chelsea fan (and a season ticket holder... as if that adds any weight to my opinion) I do wince every time Luiz dives into a tackle. So far he's been a spectacular combination of dynamic magnificence and clumsy disaster, with nothing in between. That being said, it was/is often much the same with Ricardo Carvalho who, despite being a hugely experienced player, still makes an amazing number of rash challenges (see his recent outings for Madrid).

    Personally I think Luiz was a bit harshly treated by the media yesterday. It was a small mistake, very early in the game, when the defence was totally exposed as all the Chelsea midfielders suddenly found themselves ahead of the ball. If Hernandez had missed, I'm not sure anyone would have remembered it Luiz's error.

  • Comment number 35.

    @33, re comments at 26

    Maybe a dig at me form my comment at 16?

    We love in Brazil to argue that our teams are on par with top European clubs because of performances in the Club World Cup, or, in Aces High well thought irony, in a Summer friendly cup (that has not happened yet). Though I would agree that Brazilian and Argentine teams will probably have the ability to stand their ground in a one or two-gamer such as these tourments - when the opposition will always be a lot less committed, or in different stages of the season - they are not proper comparison basis.

    For all Aces High wishful thinking, over the course of a season, Brazilian teams are vastly inferior in terms of regularity and technical ability, to their counterparts in the Old Continent. Not less so because the best South American players play for Europe...

    It is simply not helpful to believe the hype... and the utter failure in the Libertadores is an great reality check.

  • Comment number 36.

    Tim, you are right about David Ramirez who was fantastic last season with Godoy Cruz but thanks I believe to an early season injury and Velez good form, Ramirez is not always guaranteed a game at Velez although he should benefit from Santiago Silva's injury. Another player doing well with Velez is Augusto Fernandez, a midfielder who was let go by River but is flourishing at Velez.

    We will see what kind of depth Velez have as they are expected to use a 2nd choice team later today when they play Banfield in their league match as they are saving their first choice team for their Libertadores game later in the week vs Libertad. Velez currently lead the league but two of their closest pursuers are Olimpo and River Plate who thanks to Argentina determining relegation based on average number of points won over a three year span (or less if your club was promoted sometime during the last three years) are ironically both trying to win the Clausura championship while simultaneously avoiding finishing 3rd or 4th from bottom in the points won per game percentile! Can you imagine it, Olimpo or River Plate could be Clausura champions yet still have to play a promotion playoff series against a club from the 2nd division! For all the criticisms of Brazil's national league, at least they do not have 5 month half seasons or determine relegation over a 3 year period as is done not only in Argentina but many other Latin American countries (Mexico as another prominent example.) This system was enacted to try and protect a big club having a bad season from getting relegated but in Brazil big clubs like Gremio and Corinthians have used their season in the 2nd division to reorganize their team and come back to the first division stronger than ever.

    Soccer Futbol Forum

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi Tim - sterling work as always.

    Re David Luiz, I could see him as a rampaging full back, as opposed to a rampaging yet error-prone centre back.

    What is your opinion on Manchester United's Anderson? I have very little doubt that the injuries he has suffered, particularly the bad one at Porto, have set him back somewhat, but he hasn't really developed as I think many people had hoped or expected. I know many were surprised when he was deployed in a deep lying role not long after he joined United, but that didn't last too long, and he hasn't shown the creative flair one would (stereotypically!) expect from such a player. What do you think his future holds?

  • Comment number 38.

    'how on earth could those clubs have suffered such a disastrous night?

    The short answer is that the opposition played better'


  • Comment number 39.

    Definitely Brazilian football is undergoing some bad time.Well its not a big deal even greatest players and teams face some off seasons.They need to come out soon.As they are host of world cup 2014 .They should tight their laces,gear up and make proper tactical changes .Well Brazilians are capable of lifting game at any moment.I hope they come in form soon.

    shama praveen,
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 40.

    @AlexAD: if a play-off format between European and South American clubs are not good enough to determine how good brazilian/south american clubs are (and I agree with you), than certainly we cant determine ANYTHING, as a "crysis" in Brazilian football, from the results in playoff Libertadores matches!!

    Its better to determine it from the fact 5 brazilian clubs classified from the group stages, becase THOSE are "pontos corridos".

    So you fell in my argument trap. :)

    You completely contradict yourself by saying these cup matches are not enough to determine how good brazilian teams are, and using the example of the Libertadores (with the SAME kind of matches) to prove your point. :rolleyes:

    Btw, another contradiction you make is that european clubs are better for their higher payrolls and the best brazilian players playing there.

    Oh well, several of the best argentine and uruguayan players are not playing in Argentina and Uruguay, but in Brazil. Peñarol´s payroll cant play the salary of Rafael Sobis alone at Internacional.

    As for tactics... tactics are always a funny thing... you can never say that because team A won over team B, and team B won over team C, that team A is better than C... some tactics fit better against a kind of team, while not for others.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think your article is too apocalyptic. This year's results for Brazilian teams are the "exception that confirm the rule". Teams have used wide strikers for a long time against Brazilian teams.

    I don't think this has to do with tactics, but just Brazilian teams, for a number of coincidences, being worst this year.

    Sometimes the transfer market, together with the ridiculous calendar transform the teams from one season to another.

    Internacional's problem was Roth's sackage, IMO. Falcao has no idea how to coach, and I can't believe someone can make a team with D'Alessandro and Andrezinho in the same midfield.. But after Taison's departure, the only velocity option for Inter, they have been pretty average side.. finished 10th (i think) in Brasileirao and lost to Mazembe.

    Fluminense was never championship material since they had an on-shape Emerson.. They frenquently played worse against small teams like Guarani, A.Goianiense, Avai, etc. They never were a ball posession team, and were more of a counter-attack, and why not, lucky team.

    Gremio, after Jonas' departure, was simply a bad team.. Not anything to do with tactics, they lost to a better team in UCatolica. Borges imbecility didn't help also.

    Santos and Cruzeiro were Brazil's best teams by far. But even last year, Cruzeiro was too exposed as a team with Roger as a 3rd man in the midfield, which is an option I strongly disagree. Brazilian fans always want as many attackers as they can, but using Everton as a "terceiro volante" made Cruzeiro much more solid. Don't forget they had Ortigoza and Farias upfront, which are their 3rd and 4th option for attack.
    People make it seem like Santos were massacred by America-Mexico, but if you watch through the replays, Santos were more imposing at Vila Belmiro than America was at Mexico.

    America's chances were mostly shooting outside of the box, Rafael's theatrical jumps made his saves seem more dramatic. But they didn't invade Santos' box that much. The game was controlled IMO.

    Anyways, I disagree with your article, since it is trying to determine a tendency based on tactics. And I am willing to bet Brazilian teams will have much more teams in next years's quarter finals. It is NOT a tendency based on tactics and YES a coincidence based on other factors.

  • Comment number 42.

    Oh and by the way, Barcelona are the most Brazilian team in Europe, since their fullbacks are 100% of the time in the same line as the midfield.

  • Comment number 43.

    "It is not easy to fight on two fronts" --- yeah look how well it went for Germany.

  • Comment number 44.

    @ 1: I think complacency may have often been the reason in the past for Brazilian clubs not going all the way in the Libertadores, but I reckon Tim has hit the nail on the head in highlighting the simultaneous final stages of the state championships and key phase of the Libertadores. For example, Santos is playing midweek and weekends in hugely competitive eliminatory tournaments, in a sequence of LIB last 16 1st leg (27/4); SP State championship semi-final (30/4); LIB last 16 2nd leg (3/5); SP State championship final 1st leg (8/5); LIB quarter-final 1st leg (11/5); SP State championship final 2nd leg (15/5); LIB quarter-final 2nd leg (18/5). If they survive that, the rest of their Libertadores campaign will run simultaneously with the Brazilian national championship, which gets under way shortly.
    I am sure the club would have wanted to play reserves in the state finals, but pressure from both the authorities (who don't want to see their tournament devalued) and the fans (who can be obsessive over local bragging rights), not to mention the financial interests, meant that this sensible solution didn't get off the drawing board.
    By the same token, Fluminense has been involved in the Rio state championship, Cruzeiro got to the finals of the Minas Gerais state championship and Inter and gremio are the finalists in the Rio Grande do Sul state championship. You don't have to look any further than that to understand the underperformance of Brazil's clubs this season, but Tim's tactical explanations have added a fascinating insight into another facet of the changes going on in the continent.

  • Comment number 45.

    @33 Tim Vickery:

    no, its not about S.America vs Europe. Its about weaker, poorer teams, beating stronger, richer teams.

    a case that applies very well to when any s.american club faces european teams.

  • Comment number 46.

    @ 11 (and by inference 7): I doubt very much that it's a question of the Guianas' (as they used to be called), as geographically (as well as culturally) they are more Caribbean nations than South American ones. While they are located alongside Venezuela, close to the Caribbean, they are separated from the rest of South America by vast swathes of dense jungle that effectively isolate them from their southern neighbours. It would be nice to see them in the Libertadores, but CONCACAF might have something to say about that. Even if a Mexican team should win the Libertadores, as another contributor pointed out recently, they are not allowed to compete as the S.Am representative in the World Club championship, since they are officially a CONCACAF nation and participate in the Libertadores 'by invitation'.

  • Comment number 47.

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

  • Comment number 48.

    @ 36: entirely agree with you that the system is devised to protect the big clubs but can be counterproductive over the long term, since the kick in the pants that relegation represents provides an ideal opportunity for a rethink or even restructure, and a successful return is a good platform for a good 1st Division performance the following season. Only the infirm or the mediocre fell the need to protect their incumbency.

  • Comment number 49.

    @40 AcesHigh

    No, I have not fallen in your argument trap for two reasons - first, I did not say the defeats were a "crisis", I just said they were further indication that Brazilian clubs are much farther behind their European counterparts than a part of our press/supporters believe, which, let's face it, is quite obvious anyway. So I didn't use the failure at Libertadores to point out we are worse even than the South American teams, but just to point out we should be more humble on the face of such an eye-opener.

    Second, my argument was not that the Club WC or these summer cups are not basis for comparison because they are play offs - but rather because of the difference in the commitment of South American teams in relation to the commitment of the opposition.

    And as to your statement that several of the "best argentine and uruguayan" players are in Brazil, I beg to differ. Conca, Montillo, Dallessandro and Abreu are certainly good players, but the very best Argentines and Uruguayans, unfortunately, are, again, in Europe.

    BTW, cute rolleyes... but it doesn't fit much someone who calls himself "Aces High".

  • Comment number 50.

    PS: in post No.46 I forgot to type "a question of the Guianas'.... preference" (ie: it's more a question of geographical reality).

  • Comment number 51.

    As an Asunción resident I can confirm nobody is concerned about Paraguayan domination of the tournament. I'm loving it personally as I get to see another top quality game this year!

    @6 Olimpia situation is interesting - they were cruising league after 8 games and President spending massive amounts of money, now find themselves trailing Nacional by 3 points with 4 games to go. Their coach is Nery Pumpido (1978 WC winner) who won the 2002 Copa Libertadores with Olimpia. He will get the sack if they fail to win league and the Olimpia president will probably explode in a fit of rage.

  • Comment number 52.

    Tim, I completely agree with your comment on #25, and I ask you: isn't these absurd criteria adopted by Brazilian referees part of the reason as to why Brazilian teams often lose their heads?

    What I mean is that the teams are used to referees conceding the foul at nearly every touch, so at any physical contact, they keep expecting the foul, and, when it isn't given, they think that the referee is being unfair or is deliberately trying to harm them, and get more nervous as a result.

  • Comment number 53.

    And the best example about the State Championships problem (Tim probably wrote this before it happened): yesterday, Santos lost Ganso through injury in the final against Corinthians, and he'll be out for 1 month, losing key Libertadores games, as well as the Brazil games against Netherlands and Romania.

  • Comment number 54.

    The biggest shocks though were the defeats of International and favorites Cruzeiro, who had cruised through the group phase unbeaten, scoring 20 goals in six matches. It’s possible there's a technical crisis in Brazilian football, reinforced by games in never ending (excess of matches until April) qualifying phases of the state championships which hide the true strengths of each team.
    Another interesting article. Always good to read.
    bali villas

  • Comment number 55.

    #53- I read that Ganso will be out for 6 weeks. Any longer and he could even miss the Copa America. If as reported that he will be signing for a European club this summer then yesterday's game may have been Ganso's last with Santos. Between their Paulista playoff games and Copa Libertadores knockout round games, Santos are playing two elimination games per week and they are trying to do that while playing essentially the same set of players in each game. Surprising they are not even trying some squad rotation to keep some fresh players on the field.

    In Argentina, Velez have taken another route to handling their fixture congestion and rotated about half it's first choice team yet still beat Banfield 2-0. And yes Tim the last goal was scored by David Ramirez! Velez have opened up a 4 point lead on Godoy Cruz and are 5 in front of Olimpo and River Plate.

  • Comment number 56.

    I am sure the club would have wanted to play reserves in the state finals, but pressure from both the authorities (who don't want to see their tournament devalued) and the fans (who can be obsessive over local bragging rights), not to mention the financial interests, meant that this sensible solution didn't get off the drawing board. rca ieftin

  • Comment number 57.

    Hello Tim, Lucas Pratto is currently on loan at Catolica from Boca. Considering his showing in the Libertadores this season, does he have a future at Boca? Also 3 in 3 for San Martin!

  • Comment number 58.

    Hi Tim,

    Regarding your suggestion that Brazilian clubs should “add more options to their game by re-activating their earlier tradition of imaginative central midfield play”, do you see any up-and-coming Brazilian central midfielders from the under-23, under-20 and under-17 ranks who are capable of playing in this manner?

    Who are the top central-midfield prospects in Brazilian football at the moment? Any future Falcao’s out there?

  • Comment number 59.

    Another good article. Interesting point too about lack of continuity in Brazilian midfields due to excessive fouls and your Messi/Neymar comparison. I only really watch Spanish teams in the champions league so cant say if they are reflective of the Spanish league as a whole but in the Barca v Real games Messi was about the only player on the pitch who DIDNT indulge in the ridiculous theatrics and referee baiting which threatened to ruin the games; Neymar would have slotted in nicely! I watched him when Brazil played Scotland last month at the Emirates, in the space of the first 2 minutes he managed to dive twice and fall down feigning injury. He was systematically booed for the rest of the game as a result which he insisted afterwards was "racism" on the part of the Scottish fans. A shame as he looks really promising. He may have some "cultural" adapting to do if he is on his way to the English premiership in the summer.

  • Comment number 60.

    How can Mexican teams play both in the Copa Libertadores, and the CONCACAF Champions League? Obviously the same team doesn't play in both, but does the winner of the cup competition in Mexico and lower league places get CONCACAF, while the top 2/3 get Copa Libertadores?

  • Comment number 61.

    any good prospects

  • Comment number 62.

    60 - Mexican league runs in same way as most south american countries - there is the apertura (opening) and clausura (closing) tournaments, the CONCACAF champions league entrants are taken from the winner of these, I'm not sure if winners of both or whether they have a play-off to decide 1 team or what, but anyway it's definitely the champions of something that are chosen for this competition first, the libertadores are chosen by some other criteria, if somebody could explain that'd be cool...

    The Cup was abandoned some years ago when they introduced the current play-off system whereby the top 8 teams from the final league standings go into a knock-out tournament. This is also very common latin america.

  • Comment number 63.

    Interesting blog Tim.

    But I didn't see any comments on club presidents. Although Brazilian teams have more money to spend, a lot of it has been wasted carelessly.

    Take a look at my team (Gremio). We had Jonas (top scorer at last Brazilian league) leaving the team because he was asking too much money. He was sold for less than 2 million euro. But Gremio spent a lot of money on Carlos Alberto, who was a major disapointment. The worst of it was that Gremio dismissed Carlos Alberto before their second game against Universidad Catolica and did not have reserves to fill their bench at that game! Isn't that stupid?

    I think Cruzeiro's elimination was a big surprise. But not so much for the rest. Fluminense exploded from the inside out, as Muricy Ramalho's departure indicate. And Internacional was not able to handle their coaching problems, and it seems Falcão will not be the answer to that.

  • Comment number 64.

    Another question Tim. Do you relate the lack of a decent pre-season with the amount of injured players in Brazil? In Brazil, football players rely a lot on their physical condition to perform well and I think that they have not been able to cope with that. What do you think?

  • Comment number 65.

    #60 and #62

    Bit late, but the Mexican winners and runners up of the Apertura and Clausura qualify for the CONCACAF champions league (although the runners up have to qualify for it in a play off). They are then not allowed to participate in the Libertadores or the Copa Sud America. (This was Monterrey, Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul and Toluca)

    The Libertadores places are decided as the best ranked team from the apertura season that finishes just before the Libertadores starts whilst the other 2 are usually decided in a play off in the USA over the Christmas break. That is why the very weak Jaguares team were able to scrap through even though they finished this season bottom of the table and narrowly avoiding relegation. Which is why I dont relly understand #2 comments about weakness in the Mexican game when Jaguares of Chiapas are in the last 8 of the Libertadores.

  • Comment number 66.

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

  • Comment number 67.

    I feel that Brazil will return to dominance in the area. The short-term defeats will refocus the clubs or their strengths that elevated them above all others in the region over the prior football years.


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