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Archives for June 2012

Corinthians close in on Libertadores dream

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

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

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

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

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

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Argentine title race is a sprint, relegation a marathon

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Tim Vickery | 10:14 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2012

In the rollercoaster of tournament football it took Russia little more than a week to move from possible winners to definite failures at Euro 2012. Spare a thought, then, for Argentine club Tigre who could move to either extreme in the space of 90 minutes - or even be both at the same time.

Next week is the last round of the conventional season in Argentina and Tigre have a good chance of winning the title for the first time in the club's long history. But they are also in danger of being relegated to the second division.

This apparent absurdity is possible because radically different time frames are used at either end of the table. Winning the title is a sprint. The campaign is just 19 games long with all the teams facing each other once, meaning two separate championships can be played each year.

Relegation, meanwhile, is a marathon. It is worked out on an average of points accumulated over the course of six championships or three years (teams have their points divided by the number of games played - 114 for those who have spent the last three years in the first division, 76 for those present in the last two and 38 for the clubs promoted a year ago).

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Huge pressure on Brazil ahead of 2014 World Cup

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Tim Vickery | 08:32 UK time, Monday, 11 June 2012

Tournaments are like time speeded up. Teams suddenly come together; others fall apart under the unusual pressures. Players have to react to different circumstances. There is the banal - the simple break in routine as a result of spending so much time away from home. And there is the special - the fact that the occasion might be the biggest a player has ever experienced in his life.

Those old enough to remember the FA Cup Final in its glory days - when the build-up was so big it was practically a tournament in itself - will recall the frequent instances of players going down with cramp. This was usually attributed to the sapping Wembley turf. At least as important was surely the emotional effect of playing a game in such a spotlight.

Poland coach Franciszek Smuda blamed this emotional aspect for his side's disappointing second-half display in the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. His observation makes sense. Tournament hosts 16 years ago, England seemed to be running on empty in the second half of their Euro 96 debut against Switzerland. In the course of the competition, Terry Venables' men showed they were capable of far better.

But even in comparison with Poland now and England in 1996, the pressure on the next World Cup hosts will be far greater. I doubt that any team in major tournament history has had to cope with the burden of expectations that Brazil will be carrying in 2014.

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Euro 2012 - a World Cup without Brazil?

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Tim Vickery | 09:20 UK time, Monday, 4 June 2012

A Rio newspaper on Sunday asserted that the European Championship is a World Cup without Brazil and Argentina. It is an expression used on both sides of the Atlantic - but that does not make it fair.

European teams have disputed the last two World Cup finals but the continent also provides some of the dullest teams in the tournament. The phrase is unfair on Africa and Asia, where South Korea have made a consistent contribution to recent World Cups. If they needed home advantage to reach the semi-finals in 2002, then so did England in 1966 and France in 1998 to register their only wins.

The phrase is also deeply unfair on the rest of South America, a continent which gave ample proof of its current strength two years ago in South Africa. Chile came up with their best-ever performance away from home by making the second round. Paraguay reached the last eight for the first time - and gave champions Spain their most even game on the way to the title. And Uruguay got to the semi- finals.

There could hardly be a greater compliment paid to South American football - the team that came fourth in the world only came fifth in the continent's qualifiers. They had to book their place in South Africa via a play-off with Costa Rica.

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