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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Unlike Europe's Champions League, South America's leading club competition does not climax with a one-off final on a neutral ground. It would simply not be practical.

In South America, where distances are vast and wages for the masses are low, air travel is beyond the reach of the average fan.

So instead the Copa Libertadores builds toward a two-legged final, the teams meeting each other home and away.

Its deciding games might lack the buzz of a Champions League final, whose sense of occasion is heightened by the energy of two sets of travelling fans.

But on the other hand, staging the final over two legs means there is no chance of a stalemate like the Juventus v Milan final in Manchester four years ago.

Argentina's Boca Juniors battle with Gremio of Brazil
Argentina's Boca Juniors lead Gremio of Brazil 3-0 after the first leg
In the South American decider the onus is always on the hosts to take the initiative.

It is a continent where home advantage counts. As a general rule in World Cup qualifiers or international club competitions away wins are almost half as rare in South America as they are in Europe.

So rather than the cliche of a final of 180 minutes, the Libertadores final can often throw up two very different matches, where the team which were so dominant as hosts in the first match are hanging on for grim life when they are the away side in the return game.

This year could provide an example. In Buenos Aires last week Boca Juniors of Argentina beat Brazil's Gremio 3-0 in the first leg of the final.

On Wednesday they meet again in Porto Alegre. Boca are strong favourites. Some would say they have a hand and a half on the title.

Indeed, it would be a surprise if their lead is overturned. But it is by no means impossible.

Boca may well have some suffering to go through before they can be crowned Libertadores champions for the sixth time.

Boca's first leg win was not entirely unexpected. They had shown strong home form in this year's campaign, and Gremio had looked very weak on their travels.

After winning their first away game the 3-0 defeat to Boca was their sixth in a row.

In Porto Alegre, however, the roles are reversed. After drawing their first home match Gremio have won the subsequent five - and they have yet to concede a single goal in front of their own fans.

Boca, meanwhile, have one win, one draw and four defeats in their away games, and have conceded 11 goals in the process.

These figures point to the conclusion that Boca are not the greatest defensively.

In possession they can be a delight. Teenage midfielder Banega plays the first pass out of defence with quality, Riquelme conducts the play with his customary class, they can play quick triangles down both flanks and have a well matched strike partnership in target man Palermo and the lean, whippy Palacio.

Domestic Peruvian football is not particularly strong at the moment

But the defence can be exposed - especially as Banega is not really a holding midfielder, and the defensive side of his game is nowhere near as good as his distribution.

Boca could replace him with Battaglia - it could increase their defensive protection but might also mean that the ball does not arrive with such ease at the feet of Riquelme.

Even in last week's defeat Gremio saw that they have the tools to worry Boca.

In truth 3-0 was not an accurate reflection of the game. As the referee later admitted, Boca's opener was offside.

The hosts had occasional sparkling moments rather than total domination, even after Gremio had a man sent off.

And Gremio have a teenage talent of their own - lithe striker Carlos Eduardo, who likes to cut in from the left wing.

He troubled the Boca defence last week and should prove still more dangerous this time round.

Boca need also be concerned by the powerful breaks and rocket shooting of midfielders Diego Souza and the Liverpool-bound Lucas.

The artful free-kicks of Tcheco will also be a threat - Gremio will be looking for fouls inside his range, and the criteria of the referee could be important.

The Brazilians can also take heart from the regulations. The away goals rule does not apply.

It was in effect for all the other knockout rounds, but in the final if aggregate scores are level after 90 minutes then extra-time is played, followed by penalties if the scores are still tied.

It means Gremio can push forward without having to worry that if Boca score one they will need five.

It may also mean that after a dramatic first leg last week, the return match might be even more so.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at vickerycolumn@hotmail.com

I get the impression that South American club football is pretty chaotic compared to the leagues in western Europe, ie wild fans, corrupt/inept officials, sleazy agents, player exploitation, etc. Is this really the case or is there some media sensationalism at play?
Paul MacLean

All the unfortunate aspects you mentioned apply - the common denominator behind so many of them is the weakness of the idea of the general good and the absence of consequences in many cases of wrong doing.

So it's a big part of the story, but it's by no means the whole story.

For the British media South American football broadly speaking has three areas of interest - the national teams, especially Brazil and Argentina in World Cups; future stars of world football; some of the crazy things that go on.

All are valid, but what tends to get overlooked is the normal, but deeply fascinating, culture of the club game - hence the article above.

As a Barnsley fan, I'm intrigued by our signing of Peruvian striker Miguel Mostto. What type of striker is he? Is he talented enough to make the grade in the Championship? How do the leagues compare in terms of standard? Also, do you think its likely he will be able to adapt?
Rob Pick

It is indeed an intriguing one. Domestic Peruvian football is not particularly strong at the moment.

It's been years since one of their teams has done anything in the Libertadores, for example. But Mostto is one of the best players in it - he's a striker with some pace who likes working from the right channel - I can imagine him playing alongside a target man and doing well feeding off the flick-ons.

Peru have several good strikers so he hasn't had too much of a look in at international level - 10 caps, one goal - but he's in the Copa America squad so you might be able to see him in action in Venezuela.

The Barnsley weather shouldn't be too much of a problem - he's coming from Cienciano of Cuzco, high up the Andes where it can be bitterly cold.

The pace and physicality of English football will inevitably come as a shock - it always does. But I think he can do a job - providing (and this is the key, I think) his attitude is right.

He's 30 in November, so this is not a youngster on the way up. Hopefully he doesn't just see this as a payday. If he really wants to make a contribution then I think he'll do okay.



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