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Last Updated: Monday, 11 April, 2005, 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
Libertadores giants come to life
By Tim Vickery

Robinho training with his current club Santos
Robinho produced an astonishing performance - the most impressive thing about him is that he keeps developing
Last week the Copa Libertadores got serious for two of the favourites.

Halfway through the group phase, Santos of Brazil and Boca Juniors of Argentina were running the risk of early elimination.

They were both lying third in their respective group, and only the top two qualify for the knockout stages.

For these great names of South American football it was if the knockout stages had started early.

They had to win their games last week - and, in different styles, both came through in magnificent fashion.

Santos' 3-1 win over LDU of Ecuador was based on what was a strong contender for the finest performance to date in the young career of wonderkid Robinho.

He has frequently looked lightweight against international opposition, but now he was irresistible, running with the ball with grace and fluency, gliding past the defenders on either side, taking responsibility when it mattered most - Santos went behind right at the start of the game.

Their defence was leaking alarmingly - indeed no side in the competition has let in more than the nine goals that Santos have so far conceded.

Without Robinho's attacking potency they would have no hope of becoming the first Brazilian club to win the trophy for the third time.

There will be stiffer tests to come. Defence is not LDU's strongest suit.

They leave their centre-backs very exposed, allowing Robinho time and space to pick up the ball and work his tricks.

But even so Robinho produced an astonishing performance.

The most impressive thing about him is that he keeps developing. He has come on in leaps and bounds in the last year.

He has become more direct, has learned to use his skills in areas that cause most damage to the opposition, and now he also scores centre-forward goals such as the far-post diving header that clinched the points in this game.

If Santos' win was the fruit of individual genius, Boca Juniors suddenly clicked into a collective blend that was equally breathtaking.

It was by some distance Boca's finest performance since winning the Libertadores in 2003
After a prolonged period of success the Buenos Aires giants - in their centenary year - have found themselves in the inevitable transitional phase.

The sale of Carlos Tevez, their own wonderkid, left the team looking short of talent.

In the build-up to the Libertadores they hurriedly tried to sign a playmaker, but the deals all fell through.

The absence was keenly felt in the opening matches, especially the third game, a 3-1 defeat away to Pachuca of Mexico.

Last Wednesday the team met again in Buenos Aires, and this time coach Jorge Benitez found the formula.

Centre-forward Martin Palermo frequently dropped deeper, taking defenders with him and creating space for Boca's three runners from midfield.

Time and time again Cagna, Guglielminpietro and Vargas got behind the opposing line, Boca passed the ball at pace with precision and the Pachuca defence - all experienced internationals - were ripped apart.

The final score was 4-0, but no one could have complained if it had been 10.

It was by some distance Boca's finest performance since winning the Libertadores in 2003, and it awoke hopes that they might be able to win their sixth title this year.

The decisive wins of last week were much more than triumphs for Santos and Boca Juniors.

They were triumphs for football itself. The fact that the game can be played so well in such different styles - like the one man dribbling against the world approach of Robinho, or the collective high tempo pass and move play of Boca - is the key to football's global success.

Football is such a fluid game that different clubs and countries can express their identity through their interpretation of how it should be played.

But few can intepret the game as well as Robinho and Boca Juniors did last week.

Robinho career at crossroads
20 Dec 04 |  World Football

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