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Last Updated: Monday, 28 February, 2005, 08:46 GMT
South Americans show their steel
By Tim Vickery

Barcelona striker Maxi Lopez
Lopez had a major impact against Chelsea

Premiership clubs felt the full force of South American firepower in last week's Champions League ties.

Bayern Munich's Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro - the Andes Bomber - set up a difficult second leg for Arsenal.

Brazilian Franša gave Bayer Leverkeusen a lifeline against Liverpool.

Argentina's Hernan Crespo scored the only goal of the game for Milan against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

And his compatriot and fellow River Plate old boy Maxi Lopez helped turn the tide in Barcelona's favour against Chelsea.

Lopez is an interesting case - and not just because of his resemblance with early 1970s Rod Stewart. Maxi may have a glorious future.

He has already made more of an impact in Europe than he achieved in over three years as a professional in Argentina.

He took just a few minutes to open his account in the Champions League. He never managed a single goal in the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores.

Indeed, his missed penalty in last year's semi final shoot out against great rivals Boca Juniors meant that River Plate were eliminated.

Enormous hype surrounded his progress through River Plate's youth ranks. But at senior level he turned out to be more smoke than fire.

He made his debut as a 17 year old back in August 2001.

Forgotten man

Up until January's move to Spain he managed just 16 competitive goals - 13 in the league, 3 in the South American Cup, the continent's second club competition.

In this part of the world you can find goalkeepers who are more prolific.

At the same time River had another young striker, Fernando Cavenaghi, who was scoring goal after goal.

Just six months older than Lopez, Cavenaghi helped himself to over 70 goals for River, and was also a star for the national team at Under-20 level, where Lopez also failed to hit the target.

According to the statistics from South America, there is no comparison.

Cavenaghi, with his superb natural finishing, is the better player. But he is currently forgotten in Russian football, while Lopez basks in last week's limelight.

And this will not come as a great surprise to anyone back in Buenos Aires.

Fernando Cavenaghi
Cavenaghi's career has faltered outside Argentina

Even while they were experiencing such differing fortunes at home, there was always the feeling that Lopez was the better bet for Europe.

The reason is that Lopez is so physically strong.

Cavenaghi belongs to the school of Argentine centre forwards who are adept at rounding off sleek passing movements.

Quite often they fail to make much of an impression in Europe.

River, for example, have just replaced Lopez with Ernesto Farias, a prolific marksman at home who fell short of expectations with Palermo in Italy.

Lopez, with his battering ram strength, is well equipped to deal with the extra physical contact of European football and the constant fight for possession against giant centre backs.

The fact that he struggled to score at home need not mean that he will suffer the same fate in Spain.

Brazil's awesomely strong striker Adriano, for example, was sometimes jeered off the field when he played for Flamengo of Rio.

He is now a sensation in Italy.

Football's two traditional continents frequently look for different things in a player.

South America loves intricate ball skills. Europe favours pace and power.

Football is a universal language that is spoken with different accents.





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