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Last Updated: Monday, 27 December, 2004, 11:29 GMT
2004 - A year to remember
By Tim Vickery

Brazil's Alex lifts the Copa America trophy
Brazil's Alex lifts the Copa America trophy
Club football in South America continues to suffer from the continent's economic crisis.

The best players are lured across the Atlantic - 900 players left Brazil alone in 2004.

And crowds are low, with money tight and the fear of violence proving a powerful incentive to stay at home.

The average attendance in this year's Brazilian Championship was a record low of 8,139.

Furthermore, in 2004 no new talent exploded on the continent with quite the same force as Diego, Robinho and Carlos Tevez in the two previous years.

There is no doubt that the highlight of South America's footballing year has to come from the international game.

There were some dramatic tournaments in 2004.

The Copa America, held in Peru last July, could hardly have come to a more exciting conclusion.

With the last kick of the final Brazil scored one of the most decisive equalising goals in the history of football.

Argentina thought they had the game won and were in no state to take penalties when Adriano's 93rd-minute blast forced a shoot-out.

Earlier in the year there was intense disappointment for Brazil when they amazingly failed to qualify for the Olympic football tournament.

The gold medal is the only title they lack but they will have to wait four more years after missing out on the two qualification slots up for grabs in South America's Under-23 Championships, held in Chile in January.

Argentina and Paraguay made it through and went on to secure gold and silver in Athens.

These tournaments were terrific but the real highlights of the year in South American football could only come from the World Cup qualification campaign.

The reason? It is the only time that all the great players come back home and play competitive matches in front of their own fans.

I well remember getting a shiver down my spine awaiting the kick-off of the match between Brazil and Argentina at the start of June.

Euro 2004 was about to get under way. The thought struck me that the accumulation of talent on the Belo Horizonte pitch was at least as outstanding as that about to go into action in Portugal.

For 90 minutes Brazil was the capital of the football world. Ronaldo obviously felt the sense of occasion.

South American football should come up with much more to celebrate in 2005
He will probably never play a bigger match in Brazil and it was taking place in the stadium where he had made his name over a decade earlier.

He was unstoppable, suffering and scoring three penalties in Brazil's 3-1 win.

If Ronaldo's performance was the individual highlight of the year, my collective prize goes to Argentina in a match they played a few months later.

In October I was down in Buenos Aires to see their first match under new coach Jose Pekerman.

Nerves were settled with an early goal and old rivals Uruguay were blasted away.

Soon after half-time Argentina were four up and although Uruguay hit back with two consolation goals, it was the performance of the hosts that lingers in the memory.

Argentina's goals were magnificent team efforts involving all of the fundamentals of well-played football.

The ball moved quickly around the field, with plenty of running off the ball to provide options and lots of crisp, accurate passing, mixing long and short to find gaps in the defence.

The crowd responded in fine style, creating the kind of atmosphere familiar to all those old enough to remember the 1978 World Cup.

These, then, were my highlights of 2004. With seven vital rounds of World Cup qualifiers scheduled for next year, South American football should come up with much more to celebrate in 2005.

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