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Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Juan Roman Riquelme
Boca's Juan Roman Riquelme could set up a Boca-Man Utd World Club final

Now they have conquered Europe, global domination should be Manchester United's next aim.

For this reason they should now be following events across the Atlantic, because South America is likely to produce United's strongest challengers for the World Club Cup trophy.

The Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League equivalent, has now reached the semi-final stage.

Of the two ties there is one that will clearly attract most attention, and especially from United's point of view.

The first semi between America of Mexico and LDU of Quito is intriguing but America of Mexico will not be at the World Club Cup even if they win the Libertadores.

The Mexicans are guests in the competition, and one of the drawbacks of their status is that they cannot represent South America.

Their opponents, LDU of Quito are an interesting side, who attack with pace and width. But it would be a real upset if they were to go all the way and become the first Ecuadorian winners of the title.

Which leaves Fluminense against Boca Juniors, Brazil versus Argentina, as the tie which will raise pulses all over the continent.

Wednesday's first leg is in Buenos Aires - though as a result of a linesman being hit by an ice-cube in their own famous stadium Boca are having to stage the match at the ground of Racing.

The second leg a week later will be in Rio's Maracana stadium - a fitting scene for such an occasion. And it is a clash where Liverpool old boy Gabriel Paletta, now with Boca, could have a key role to play.

Reigning champions Boca have already seen off highly-rated Brazilian opposition in this campaign, winning home and away in the second round against a Cruzeiro side that had looked very impressive in the group phase.

Gabriel Paletta has not always had an easy time since returning from his premature move to Liverpool

The difference between Cruzeiro and Fluminense is that Boca's latest rivals have a better balance between attack and defence.

In 10 games Fluminense have conceded just six goals. The experienced Luiz Alberto and the very classy Thiago Silva form an excellent centre-back partnership, and will feel confident of handling Boca's big centre forward Martin Palermo.

His strike partner Rodrigo Palacio may offer more of a threat. Palacio drifts across the attacking line and cuts in from either flank.

He is especially effective against a back three - which in essence is how Fluminense often defend, dropping midfielder Ygor into the defensive line to free the full-backs to push forward.

Palacio's supply line is, of course, Juan Roman Riquelme, who directs Boca's play.

Given half a chance the Argentine international's passes can carve wide open the tightest defence.

Fluminense may think of shadowing him with the combative Ygor or the busy little Arouca.

Riquelme is usually at his best when surrounded by quick players who can open up the field for him. This year his partnership with jet-heeled left-footed Jesus Datolo has been highly productive.

Against Fluminense, though, Datolo may have other priorities. He might be concerned with blocking the advances of opposing right back Gabriel - just as on the other side of the field Boca will have to keep a watch on little left-back Junior Cesar, who is enjoying a magnificent campaign.

In the group phase Argentine club Arsenal went to the Maracana and forgot to mark Fluminense's full-backs.

It was suicide - as the 6-0 scoreline reveals. Boca are unlikely to make the same mistake.

Boca, though, may struggle to combat Fluminense's power in the air.

These days this is an area where Brazilian teams frequently have an advantage against opponents from elsewhere in the continent - and it is one of Fluminense's strongest suits.

Many of their goals in this campaign have come from set pieces thrown into the box for the big battalion to attack.

It is a thought that will give Boca cause for concern, especially as first choice keeper Mauricio Caranta may not be fit in time and reserve Pablo Migliore looks unsure off his line.

Even with Caranta in goal Boca flirted with danger when they drew their quarter-final home leg 2-2 against Atlas of Mexico - both goals conceded from corners.

It was a game which Paletta did not play. The big centre-half has not always had an easy time since returning from his premature move to Liverpool.

Along with the odd blunder there have been illnesses and injuries. But he was brought back for the second leg against Atlas (Boca won 3-0) precisely because Boca needed more aerial power in their own penalty area.

They will need it even more in these two games against Fluminense. Time for Gabriel Paletta to stand tall.

You can put your questions to Tim Vickery every week on the World Football Phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme from 0230 to 0400 BST every Saturday. You can also download last week's World Football Phone-in Podcast.


Could you tell me about the new boy wonder Kerlon from Brazil? I heard that Middlesbrough were trying to sign him. Matthew G

Anyone who's going to pay big money for him at the moment needs their head examined.

He's been injured for most of the last three years - first ankle trouble, then, both last year and this, serious knee trouble. So he's now 20 and hasn't yet been able to establish himself in senior football with Cruzeiro.

I hope he does come through. Back in the 2005 South American Under-17 Championships he was the star of a Brazil team that included Anderson (now of Man United) and Marcelo (now Real Madrid).

Kerlon is known, of course, for the 'seal dribble,' where he flicks the ball up to his forehead and runs with it balanced there.

It is fabulous, but I think that when he gets back to fitness he might be better advised to forget it for a while.

Back in 2005 he was showing so much more - goals where he was outpacing the defence, playing quick one twos on the edge of the box, curling in free kicks.

Later, though, I had the impression that the pressure to produce the seal dribble was interfering with his development. Now that he has to make up for lost time perhaps he should stick to basics for a while.

As a Man Utd fan, I was wondering if you could tell me how Anderson is viewed in Brazil and whether he is as well received as he is at United? Also I was wondering how he fits into the international set up? Neil Bickerstaff

He is very highly regarded, though you have to remember that he left very early.

In fact, in his time with Porto he seems to have picked up a Portuguese accent and become incomprehensible to some of his own countrymen.

On the international front, he's in the Brazil squad, but his bid for a first-team place could be held up by a doubt about where he should play.

In Brazil he was an attacking midfielder, either wide left or cutting across from the right.

Brazilian coaches were stunned when United started picking him in central midfield, with plenty of defensive duties.

Time will tell if this is adding new things to his game, or forcing him to sacrifice too much of what he does best.

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

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