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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 December 2007, 16:37 GMT
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Paolo Maldini holds the Club World Cup trophy aloft before announcing he will retire at the end of the season
Maldini and Milan were too strong for Boca Juniors

Boca Juniors had almost as much possession as AC Milan in the Club World Cup final and could even claim more shots and corners, according to the statistics.

So the Argentine side gave it their best. But in truth they were outgunned. It was always hard to see how, with a distinctly average defence, Boca would manage to hold Kaka, currently the best player in the world.

The Italian club were worthy winners.

The imbalance of forces on the field reflects the financial chasm off the field. Milan can sweep up the best players from all over the planet.

The Boca team, meanwhile, has three components - promising players on their way to Europe, players who have come back from Europe either to wind down their career or because the move did not work out and others who might not be outstanding but can function well in a good collective context.

It is the mix of contemporary club football in South America but whenever I make this observation it is usually greeted with howls of protest.

But Fernando Carvalho, the then-president of Brazilian club Internacional, told me that this was exactly the way that his club put together the side that frustrated and ambushed Barcelona to win the title a year ago.

There is no running away from the realities of the global market place.


Such realities are all too evident from a quick comparison between the Boca and Milan line-ups. The sides met in Japan in 2003 in the then-annual clash between the winners of the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores.

Milan have the same coach as four years ago, Carlo Ancelotti, and much of the same squad - Dida, Cafu, Maldini, Gattuso, Pirlo, Kaka, Seedorf, Inzaghi, Ambrosini, Kaladze, Simic, Serginho are all still there.

The Boca squad contains just two remnants from 2003 - midfielders Fabian Vargas, who was suspended from the final, and Sebastian Battaglia.

And both left Boca in the interim before coming back. Not a single player has been with the club continuously over the four-year period.

Even the biggest South American clubs are living in a constant state of flux, frequently having to sell their best players.

This lack of continuity is one of the key explanations for a feature of South American football that has been especially prominent this year - the success of small clubs.

In Argentina Lanus have just won their first league title in almost a century of existence, while tiny Arsenal were shock winners of the South American Cup, the continent's Uefa Cup equivalent.

In Bolivia this year's two league titles were won by relatively small and untraditional teams, Real Potosi and San Jose.

The Boca team which lost to AC Milan in the Fifa Club World Cup
The Boca squad contains just two remnants from 2003 - midfielders Fabian Vargas, who was suspended from the final, and Sebastian Battaglia

In Colombia La Equidad, a works team just a few years ago, are playing off against the mighty Atletico Nacional for the title.

There are also the cases of Audax Italiano in Chile and Defensor in Uruguay.

All of these clubs have performed wonderfully well. But there is no doubt that their task has been eased by the fact that the big clubs in their countries have been selling their top players.

In this situation one of the usual advantages of a big club - the size of its support - can prove more of a hindrance.

The pressures of playing for a big club are the same as ever - shorn of the stars, the remaining players can sometimes find it all too much.

There is another factor behind the success of the small clubs - the short season.

Most South American countries now play two separate championships a year - sometimes with a play-off to decide the overall winner, sometimes without.

It is clear that a short campaign can help the small club that hits form at the right time.

When Brazil had a short campaign with play-offs it gave rise to perhaps the most astonishing success story of them all.

Tiny Sao Caetano, surviving on gates of little more than 2,000, came within a penalty shoot-out of winning the Copa Libertadores and facing Real Madrid in Japan in 2002.

Now, though, Brazil have a much longer championship on a league basis. Sao Caetano have dropped to the second division, and the dominant force are Sao Paulo, recognised as the club with the best structure in Brazil.

Perhaps this time next year Sao Paulo will be back competing for the World Club title, which they frustrated Liverpool to win in 2005.

They may not be as ambitious as Boca were against Milan. But Sao Paulo can be expected to be much tighter in defence.

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


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

Recently, I believe Real Madrid broke off negotiations with Sao Paulo as a player they wanted to sign refused a reliable bone test to test his actual age. It now appears my home club Bayern Munich are about to sign him so is their a problem concerning players' ages in South America?
Carlos Parks Norfolk

There are real problems with this practice, especially in Brazil and Ecuador.

Perhaps the key defence is to know who you are buying from. I presume the player you are referring to is 18-year-old defender Breno, who has joined Bayern from Sao Paulo.

I was unaware of any controversy with Real Madrid, I have never heard doubts about his age, and in his case I would be astonished if Sao Paulo have been involved in a falsification.

It would undermine the credibility of their excellent youth development work, which is of huge economic importance to them.

As to the player, Breno was outstanding in his debut campaign for Sao Paulo.

A very classy defender who can man mark or play as the spare man, and can bring the ball out with great assurance.

He did have the benefit of slotting into a very good team with a well defined defensive system, and I also think he should have stayed a few months to pick up experience in the Libertadores. But there's no doubt that he's a wonderful prospect.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a young Brazilian keeper called Alves Carreira Diego play for Almeria in La Liga against Sevilla. He was tremendous and I just wanted to know where he stands in the pecking order for the Brazil national side.
Jagdeep Lall

Diego went very early - from an international point of view he would have been better advised to stay a while and make his name.

The competition is fierce. He is the first Brazilian keeper in La Liga, but Brazilian keepers have conquered Italy, and if they can shine there they can shine anywhere.

The fact is that Brazil's goalkeeping preparation work is now excellent, and they're producing a conveyor belt of keepers. Perhaps they have something to teach us.

AC Milan 4-2 Boca Juniors
16 Dec 07 |  Football


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