“Can Estudiantes redress balance of power between continents?”
Texto excelente de Tim Vickery da BBC, que ressalta o Palmeiras de 99 como o último grande time a enfrentar um Europeu em um Mundial Interclubes. Além disto, Tim reitera a ridicularidade do São Paulo de 2005 e Internacional de 2006 que, na visão do autor, foram patéticos em suas atuações apesar das conquistas.
Fica aí o texto:
“One of football’s strongest characteristics – often a blessing, occasionally a curse – is that the best side does not always win.
One example of this weekly phenomenon came 10 years ago, when Manchester United met Palmeiras of Brazil in the annual match then played in Japan between the champions of Europe and South America.
A moment of Ryan Giggs magic set up the only goal for Roy Keane – one of the very few chances United had. Palmeiras created many more, but the only time they got the ball into the net the goal was disallowed.
Veron was a key figure in Estudiantes Copa Libertadores success
A glance at their line-up shows why the Brazilians gave United such a hard game.
The team included little left-footed midfielder Zinho, a World Cup winner in 1994, as well as centre-back Junior Baiano and midfielder Cesar Sampaio who had played in the previous year’s World Cup final, and future world champions in goalkeeper Marcos, centre-back Roque Junior and left-back Junior.
Plus the wonderful Paraguayan right-back Arce and the great Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla. And the jewel in the crown at the time, the highly talented midfielder Alex, who is still playing top class football with Fenerbahce.
It was Alex who gave Mark Bosnich the most problems in one of the best games of his short spell in the United goal.
Bosnich, of course, was from Australia, and the side also included Mikael Silvestre, Jaap Stam and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. But overwhelmingly, United were a British team.
Ten years on and a lot has changed – especially the balance of forces between the two continents.
The South American clubs have become resigned to losing their stars and potential stars at an ever younger age (there are early signs of a reaction in Brazilian football, but that is a topic for another time).
There are no clubs in the continent currently able to count on the depth of quality and experience that Palmeiras paraded that day.
And the European teams have become global concerns. So now when the holders of the Copa Libertadores come to contest Fifa’s World Club Cup, they find that the best South Americans are now playing against them for the winners of the Champions League, as well as the best Africans and, of course, the best Europeans.
This imbalance of forces has been quite clear in the short history of Fifa’s newly expanded competition.
This is the fifth year in which all the continents have been represented. So far the score stands at two wins each for Europe and South America. But the manner of the wins speaks volumes.
The only South American team audacious enough to go toe-to-toe with the European champions were Boca Juniors against AC Milan three years ago. Unable to handle the thrust of Kaka, they were beaten more comprehensively than the 4-2 scoreline would suggest.
The two South American winners, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional the following year, attempted nothing so bold. The Brazilian pair were not set up to take the initiative – for this reason both of them struggled in their respective semi-finals against Asian and African opposition.
Come the final, Sao Paulo’s against Liverpool, Internacional’s versus Barcelona, both took the field in the knowledge that they were outgunned. They fought from a trench, hit out with a single counter-attack, and hung on like grim death for the final whistle.
They were tactical triumphs, examples of the fact that in football the better side can be beaten. Given the chasm in financial resources between the finalists, these wins, even if unlikely to warm the heart of the neutral, were magnificent achievements.
Can Estudiantes of Argentina pull off something similar in this year’s tournament, which kicked off 9 December? They are backed up by the tradition of a club accustomed to pulling above its weight, and they also hold an advantage in detailed planning.
They have been thinking about this tournament for months, whereas for Barcelona it is more of an afterthought following big domestic games and the battle to get through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The Argentines also count on the leadership and playmaking talent of Juan Sebastian Veron. He has an interesting supporting cast in midfield – Rodrigo Brana to hold, the promising Enzo Perez down the right and the sweet left foot of Leandro Benitez on the other flank.
But it’s not a lot with which to take on Barcelona. Since little Pablo Piatti was sold to Almeria last year there is a lack of attacking pace – someone to latch on to Veron’s raking diagonal balls as Claudio Lopez used to do for the national team.
Estudiantes have been preparing for Fifa’s World Club Cup in Abu Dhabi
And, crucially, there might be problems at the other end.
Former Leeds and Sheffield United schemer Alejandro Sabella did a wonderful job making the side more compact after taking over as coach earlier this year.
After he took charge Estudiantes won the Copa Libertadores conceding just two goals in 11 games.
But since then they have lost giant centre-back Rolando Schiavi, who was on loan from Newells Old Boys, while international goalkeeper Mariano Andujar has moved to Italy to join Catania.
Where the Europeans typically strengthen their squad after winning the Champions League, the Libertadores winners normally say goodbye to some of their best players.
Before focusing their attention on Barcelona, Estudiantes need to ensure they don’t take South Korea’s Pohang Steelers too lightly in Tuesday’s semi-final.
On the evidence of Friday’s win over TP Mazembe, the Asian champions look a well coached and organised adversary.
And Estudiantes’ dreams of a crack at the European champions will be foiled if Barcelona go down on Wednesday to Atlante of Mexico – though that might be taking a little too far the idea that in football the best team does not always win.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week’s postbag:
Q) Following the debate about Brazil’s central midfield not being a patch on Spain’s for passing and creativity, I was reminded of earlier this year Sao Paulo’s Hernanes being labelled as the £100m man.
I don’t remember him standing out during the last Olympics but he’s said to be a dynamic midfielder with two good passing feet and plenty of talent. Could he be the one to lift Brazil’s midfield?
I’m a fan. He is indeed versatile and technically gifted, with quality in both feet. But football is not just technique. In the midfield especially it is ideas – when to pass short, when to pass long, when to keep it simple, when to up the pace. When I’ve watched him this year I’ve been disappointed with his lack of progress in this direction. He should be the hub of central midfield – instead I think he’s trying to play the killer ball too often, not working his opening with a succession of little give and goes, sucking in the opposition and then slipping the pass that splits the defence.
I usually bang on about players leaving South America too early. In his case I think he would benefit from a move.”