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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Colombians shake up Copa
By Tim Vickery

Mauricio Alejandro Molina, of Independiente de Medellin
Independiente de Medellin surprised with their 2-2 draw
In last week's preview of the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals I suggested the competition might boil down to a dispute between clubs from Brazil and Argentina.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the two sides from Colombia.

Although neither of them won their first-leg tie, after fine performances away from home both are candidates for a semi-final place.

America of Cali conceded a last-minute goal to go down 2-1 to River Plate of Argentina - a deficit they are confident of overturning in Tuesday's return.

And Independiente of Medellin did even better, holding Gremio of Brazil to a 2-2 draw. A victory on Thursday will be enough to take them into the last four.

But there are bigger issues at stake than merely who will win this year's Copa Libertadores.

It is only to be expected that Brazil and Argentina are the strongest footballing nations in the continent.

Cruz Azul 2-2 Santos
Cobreloa 1-2 Boca Juniors
Gremio 2-2 Independiente de Medellin
River Plate 2-1 America of Cali

Previously Uruguay were part of the big three, but they have slipped back and, for some time now, the position of South America's third force has been up for grabs.

Colombia look as if they are ready to take it.

One of the last countries in the continent to catch football fever, the Colombian game has come a long way in a short time.

With a population of over 40 million - the second largest in the continent - it is no surprise it is able to produce plenty of skilful players.

But, until recently, few Colombian players or coaches made their living abroad.

It is true that Argentine coaches were often attracted to work in the country. But, in general, Colombian football lived in isolation and the result was a certain tactical naivety.

The teams tended to be stretched out over the pitch, with their defence so square the entire back four could be taken out with a single pass, and they struggled to cope with high balls played into their box.

But they are not giving much away in this year's Libertadores. America perhaps still represent the old happy-go-lucky style.

Good impression

Their strength is all in their attack and, when they came up against Santos of Brazil in the group phase, they were punished 5-1 at home and 3-0 away.

Independiente, though, are a different story. The team stays very compact, with an excellent defensive line well protected by two holding midfielders who are also quick to launch the attacks.

After last Thursday's 2-2 draw, Gremio coach Tite was full of praise both for the team's passing and for the quality of their marking.

The third Colombian team in the Libertadores left an equally good impression. Deportivo Cali were eliminated on penalties in the second round but could boast the best defensive record in the competition - just three goals conceded in eight games.

Colombia national team coach Francisco Maturana was watching. He praised Deportivo for playing good, modern football.

They deny space to the opposition and create space for themselves with talent, speed and technique.

Maturana is seeking to implant similar tactical sophistication into his own side.

Next month Colombia come to Europe for the Confederations Cup. It will be fascinating to see if the national side can continue the momentum started by the clubs in the Copa Libertadores.

Copa boiling over
19 May 03  |  Football

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