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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 14:26 GMT
All good things come to an end
By Tim Vickery

Porto face Once Caldas in the final of the Toyota Cup
Porto face Once Caldas in the final of the Toyota Cup
Sunday is a bittersweet day for South American football.

It's the day of the annual game in Tokyo when the top side in the continent, the victor of the Copa Libertadores, takes on the winner of Europe's Champions League.

South America loves this match. The continent relishes the opportunity to put one across the rich kids from across the Atlantic.

At the start of every season it's common for clubs to talk about their 'Project Tokyo' - their aim is to qualify for the Libertadores, win the competition and then go and enjoy the big day in Japan.

The clash with the glamour boys from Europe is the biggest date in South America's club calendar.

But, much to the continent's regret, Sunday's will be the last of the series.

Starting from next year the annual battle between football's two traditional continents will be replaced by a new world club competition.

Such a move is clearly necessary. It is nothing short of a scandal that football has waited so long to come up with a formula whereby clubs from Africa and Asia can compete against, and learn from, the giants of the game.

But it's a sad moment for South America. The fact that all the other continents will be involved takes a little of the shine off what has traditionally been their big day.

And representing South America in this final clash against Europe is not one of the continent's giants, such as River Plate or Boca Juniors of Argentina or Corinthians or Flamengo of Brazil.

It is a team from Colombia - and not even one from the country's main footballing cities of Cali and Medellin.

The 20th team to write their name on the Copa Libertadores were one of the most unlikely winners.

Once Caldas, only the second Colombian victors, are a provincial side. Their city, Manizales, has a population of a little over 300,000.

They are certainly not the most exciting team to win the tournament; their strategy was based on keeping a clean sheet, grinding out draws away from home and sneaking a win in front of their own fans.

But they were undoubtedly worthy winners. Their only defeat in the 14-game campaign came in the group stage.

To pass unbeaten through the knockout stages, taking on some of South America's biggest clubs, is a truly remarkable achievement.

This year was only the third time that Once Caldas had qualified for the Libertadores.

Caldas overcame the odds to become champions of their continent
On the other two occasions they had been eliminated in the group stage.

But they laid the foundations for their current success. In their debut campaign five years ago burly striker Edwin Congo made his name with some powerful performances.

Real Madrid bought him and Caldas used the money to upgrade their training facilities and put themselves on a firm financial footing.

As a result of sound management off the field and tactical organization on it, Caldas overcame the odds to become champions of their continent.

Now their aim is produce one more upset against Porto.

The club are based in the green, rolling hills of Colombia's coffee-growing region.

A win on Sunday would really give Manizales a buzz.





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