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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Copa Libertadores runs dry
By Tim Vickery

Boca Juniors striker Carlos Tevez
Tevez inspired Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores title last year

The explosion of teenage talent made 2003 a vintage year for the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.

In the course of the competition Santos playmaker Diego consolidated his reputation.

And Boca Juniors' stocky striker Carlos Tevez inspired his side as they won the title in magnificent style, winning their last seven matches.

No one of similar quality has come through in the current campaign.

Although there has been plenty of high drama, this has not been such a good year for the competition.

Instead of exciting young stars, the focus this year has been on resilient, organised sides who play within their limitations.

It helps explain how Boca have been able to make it through to yet another final.

They have badly lacked the attacking rhythm of last year's side.

Tevez is now a marked man, and finds life much more difficult without the pace and strength of Marcelo Delgado to open up space in the final third of the field.

Delgado was sold to Cruz Azul of Mexico after last year's win.

Some of the veterans in the Boca team have also slipped below the standards they set last year.

Centre-back Schiavi is not as dominant in the air. And striker Schelotto seems a full yard slower.

Boca's opponents in the final are Once Caldas of Colombia.

They too have based their game on keeping a clean sheet - especially since they sold their long time marksman Sergio Galvan to the United States' Major League Soccer during the course of the campaign.

Boca Juniors striker Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Schelotto is off the pace

Their strategy has been simple; grind out a draw away, and nick a win at home, their chances boosted by the mild altitude of their home city of Manizales.

As luck would have it, the Colombians are once more away from home in this week's first leg.

But it would be no surprise if coach Luis Fernando Montoya is considering a slight change of strategy.

Playing safe has taken Once Caldas to the final - but to win the title they may have to be a bit more ambitious.

That is because Boca have three important players suspended for Wednesday's match - the cost of their hard-fought penalty shoot-out victory over local rivals River Plate.

Cascini, the veteran in the holding role, picked up a two-game suspension after being ordered off in the stormy first leg against River.

And two more players are out for one match after picking up red cards in the dramatic return game - Fabian Vargas, Boca's most dynamic midfielder and Tevez, who was sent off for celebrating his late goal by taking his shirt off and imitating a chicken.

All three will be back for the second leg. So what will Once Caldas do?

Will they change their game-plan to take advantage of Boca's weakness, or stick to the approach that has worked for them so far?

It is a big decision, and one that could decide the destiny of South America's premier club title.





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