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Copa America: Green Shoots In Group A

The 2007 edition of the Copa America yielded a mighty average of 3.15 goals per game, nations throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of glory with expansive attacking play. The competition has yet to begin firing in the same manner this time around, the 8 matches so far producing only 10 goals, with the 4 Group A games accounting for half of these.

Costa Rica's star performer - Joel Campbell

Hopefully Thursday night’s encounter between Bolivia and Costa Rica will herald the start of the tournament everyone expected. It would not have been in the diaries of many when the fixtures came out, but the game was a far more “traditional” and enjoyable Copa match. With caution thrown to the wind, there was plenty of space on the park as both teams appeared to try and win the game, something of a novelty thus far.

After a staunch defensive display in grinding out a proud draw against the hosts in the opening game, the more aggressive tactics did not pay off for a Bolivian side for whom a win would have all but secured a quarter-final berth. Indeed, they will now struggle to get there, needing victory in their final game against a, shall we say, interesting Colombia.
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Exotic Leagues: Bolivia

Following on from my earlier post about League Format. Today we’ll look at how the National championship works in Bolivia. Like many of the other countries in Latin America, Bolivia use an Apertura-Clausura style system and their top level league has 12 clubs.

Apertura

The Apertura, which kicks off in February, operates a 2 stage format. The first stage involves splitting the 12 clubs into two groups of 6, they play a double round-robin within their groups as well as home and away matches from a rival from the other group. Once these 12 fixtures have been played the top 3 from each group progress into a ‘winners’ group or hexagonal, and the bottom 3 go into a losers hexagonal.

Both groups again play a set of round-robin fixtures, home and away, the team that finishes top of the winner’s hexagonal is declared the Apertura champion. The winners also earn a berth into the Copa Libertadores group stage, the runner up gets a place in the 2nd round of the Copa Sudamericana. Bizarrely the winner of the losers hexagonal receive a place in the Copa Sudamericana, this is analogous to a mid-table Premier League side receiving a place in the Uefa cup for finishing as the best team in the bottom half.

Torneo de Invierno (Winter tournament)

In between the Apertura and Clausura, the Bolivian FA hold the ‘Torneo de Invierno’ literally translates as the winter tournament. This used to be a play off tournament for the Apertura but after the format change it has remained as cup competition, something that is unusual to see in a Latin American league. All 12 sides enter, 6 ties are played in the group round with the 6 winners going through as well as the best two runners up. The rest of the tournament is a 2 legged knockout tournament with the winner receiving a place in the Copa Sudamericana.

Clausura

The Clausura is a much simpler affair, the 12 teams play a double round robin league with the winner being crowned as champion. Winner and runner-up get a Libertadores place while the 3rd place side receives a place in the Sudamericana the following season.

Relegation

Relegation is decided over the past two years performances, the team with the worst average is relegated immediately. The second worst team has to play off against the runner-up of the Copa Simon Bolivar, Bolivia has a 9 league 2nd tier, similar to 3/4th tiers in countries such as Italy. The runner-up of the play off competition gets a second chance to get into the top division.

The Emperor is looking for a move back to Europe

Anyone who has followed Italian or Brazilian football with any sort of vague interest over the last five or so years will have hopefully comeacross Adriano, Adriano Leite Ribeiro. The once prolific and nearing untouchable target man with a left foot that could break wrists has had his fair share of controversy over the past couple of years. He has been left out of Dunga’s Brazil squad for the World Cup next month and may now be looking for a move back to Europe to find a better standard of football.

Adriano against CanadaAdriano signed for Inter in 2001 following a good breakthrough year at Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro at the tender age of 19. He worked his way into the first team by going on loan and producing the goods for Fiorentina and Parma (Parma actually co-owned Adriano for 2 years). From the 2004-05 season onwards he was a huge part of Inter’s first team. However the death of his father in August 2004 and the split with his long term girlfriend shortly afterward sent the front man into a spiral of depression. He was able to hide this from Inter for some considerable period of time but soon the demons began to catch up with him and he was disciplined by the Milanese club for late nights on the town and missed training sessions. This it would seem, was the beginning of the end.

In 2007 Massimo Moratti, the Inter chairman, sent Adriano back to Brazil to recuperate and to seek counselling for the problems he had been facing. He was loaned out to Sao Paolo so that he could continue to maintain some form of physical shape while at home. Despite scoring a brace on debut he continued to prove difficult to handle, he was sent off soon afterward for headbutting another player and began turning up late and missing training sessions again. Half way through the 2007 campaign Sao Paolo decided they had had enough and terminated the loan early sending Adriano back to Italy because ‘they couldn’t count on him

In April 2009 he called his own career into question by stating that “I don’t care about the money,” he said. “I care about being happy. And in Italy I’m unhappy. Everybody should have the right to pursue happiness.” This followed his disappearing act following a short International break. The striker didn’t turn up for the flight back to Milan and could not be found for 3 days, it later turned out he was chilling out in the Favela where he grew up. Later that month he terminated his contract with Inter and went back to Brazil, seemingly for good. Serie A mourned the loss of a potential legend.

He joined his first club Flamengo a few weeks later and has been playing for them for the past year, he has linked well with Vagner Love and Kleberson (once of Manchester United). Last season they came from nowhere to win the Brazilian national championship. However his psychological problems have not yet been dealt with properly, at least his behaviour suggests that the deeply rooted issues are still there.

He as been late multiple times for training, occasionally not turning up at all. The first of these incidents was just a matter of days after his debut for his new club. It appears to have cost him his place at this summer’s World Cup. Dunga has a soft spot for Adriano, but he has made it clear that he is all about ‘the group’ as it were, and as Tim Vickery describes it. For Dunga it is no use having sensational talent if you are going to undermine the work your team mates by playing away. Even though he seems to like Adriano, he cannot take him to the World Cup because of the disruption it may cause to his squad. The problem for Adriano is that in Brazil his club are happy to allow him these indiscretions and will make excuses for him to placate him. The club have even gone as far as to ‘falsify’ doctor’s reports to explain away his absenses from training sessions, even blaming the absense on hot dogs.

Over the last few days rumours emerged linking Adriano with a move back to Europe and specifically to Roma, these were followed by reports that he had already informed his team mates of his intention to leave next month in order to return to Italy. If this move goes through it will be intriguing to see how Claudio Ranieri handles the fiery and unpredictable temperament of Adriano. It will also be interesting to see if Adriano is finally ready to knuckle down and get on with his football so that he can show us exactly what it is he can do.

Libertadores shock for holders, U de Chile finally lose

Teams left in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition, concluded their quarter final ties last week. Going into the 2nd legs the ties stood as follows: -

Chivas de Guadalajara (Mexico) 3 – 0 Libertad (Paraguay)
Universidad de Chile 3 – 2 Flamengo (Brazil)
Sao Paolo (Brazil) 2 -0 Cruziero (Brazil)
Estudiantes (Argentina & Holders) 0 – 1 Internacional (Brazil)

The biggest of those games were held in Santiago and La Plata. The holders Estudiantes went into their home game with Internacional of Brazil looking to overturn a 1 goal defecit and looked on track to do so after a great first half. On 19 minutes Juan Sebastian Veron delivered a magnificent cross field ball from 10 yards inside his half to the edge of the box where  Leandro Gonzalez had lost his full back and chipped simply over Abbondanzieri. Two minutes later Enzo Perez netted a second and Estudiantes led the tie up until the 88th minute Giuliano scored a crucial away goal for the visitors in a smoke filled penalty area. The end of the game was marred by a bit of a big scuffle.

Flamengo had a poor first tie at home to Universidad de Chile. The Chilean side were the only undefeated side in the tournament though so they were hardly dealing with poor opposition. U de Chile had won that game 3-2 despite being down to 10 men for the majority of the second half. Flamengo scored two cracking goals, the first was assisted by an inspired overhead kick from Adriano which Vagner love helped towards the goal at the far post.  Walter Montillo equalised for U de Chile by delicately chipping the keeper from all of 25 yards out. The second  Flamengo goal came from a lovely piece of interchange between Kleberson and Adriano leading to the ‘Emperor’ scoring. Sadly this wasn’t enough to put Flamengo through to the semi finals.

The other results of the 2nd leg games were

Libertad 2 – 0 Guadalajara (2-3)
Sao Paolo 2 – 0 Cruziero (4-0)

This means that the semi finals will be as follows:

Sao Paolo vs Internacional
Guadalajara vs Universidad de Chile

To be played on the 29th July and 5th August, there will be at least one Brazilian side in the final.

Brazil: Round 2

Just a quick round up of the action in the Campeonato Brasileiro round 2 this week. Corinthians continue their 100% record with a 2-1 away win at Gremio Porto Alegre. Gremio were resting a few key names in lieu of a Copa do Brasil semi final 2nd leg in midweek against Santos. Corinthians appear to be extremely hungry for success following their eliminatioon from the Libertadores last month.

Avai missed the chance to join Corinthians at the top when they relinquished a 2-0 first half lead against a 10 man Cruizero. The game ended 2-2 and with both teams with 10 men after the Avai goalkeeper, Ze Carlos, was sent off for giving away the equalising penalty. Wellington Paulista scored both goals for Cruizero who will be the happier side with this result especially after they had also rested players in preparation for the second leg of their all Brazil Libertadores quarter final with Sao Paolo.

Vasco da Gama took on Palmeiras on Sunday night and should have all but buried them. The game was almost entirely a case of attack vs defence with Palmeiras having to create the few chances they did have on the counter attack. The Sao Paolo side didn’t manage to get a shot on target until 10 minutes into the second half. For all their pressure and possession Vasco were unable to effectively penatrate a very organised back four, never stretching them or getting in behind the defenders.

Santos took on north eastern club Ceara, still no sign of Robinho in the National Championships however. Newspaper reports suggest he is being rested, perhaps for the midweek cup semi. His young prodigy, Neymar, was both hero and villain for Santos. He had the balls to score the equalising penalty in an absolutely audacious manner, though touching on the illegal, he dummies twice before chipping the ball into the side opposite the keeper. He had the chance later on in the game to put Santos ahead but this time the keeper didn’t buy it and he dragged the spot kick wide. My only hope is that he isn’t tempted to leave Santos at such a young age. Despite this level of courage/arrogance I think he needs a little more time to give himself the platform to become a true great.

In other leagues…

This goal was scored in Paraguay and deserves special mention for an amazing trajectory. It is scored by a Sol de America player nicknamed Inca. Enjoy…

Kick off in Brazil

On Sunday afternoon the Campeonato Brasileiro, Brazilian National championship, kicked off in earnest following the conclusion of the circus show that is the regional championships. While it is a national championship most of the hype circulates around the sides from Brazil’s two biggest cities. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, the league is still quite young only being established in 1971, before this the regional championships of the Carioca (Rio) and Paulista (Sao Paolo) were considered far more prestigious competitions. Also this year Santos are making all of the pre-season noise with the short term acquisition of Robinho together with wonder kid Neymar.

In Rio we have Botafogo, Fluminense, current champions Flamengo and Vasco da Gama, who have been newly re-instated with their top flight status following the chaos and collapse of the last few seasons. Sao Paolo offers us Corinthians, Palmeiras and, of course, Sao Paolo. Also promoted from Serie B this season are Ceará, this club based close to the north-eastern tip of Brazil will have to travel the furthest this season and I expect this will contribute to poor away form. They will need to pick up plenty of points at home if they are to have a chance of survival.

As well as Robinho, European followers may be interested in the progress of some other former stars who have returned home after reaching the peaks of European competition. Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos are plying their trade for Corinthians while Flamengo have Adriano and Vagner Love on their books.

Corinthians are in their centenary year but have already been eliminated from the Libertadores, a competition they have never won, and so will have to concentrate on the league in order to crown their birthday with a trophy. They began the campaign in a steady fashion, Ronaldo scored the winner against Atletico Paranaense from the penalty spot. Meanwhile champions Flamengo were held to a 1-1 draw with Sao Paolo and Santos fought out a 3-3 draw with the once great Botafogo.

There are still four Brazilian sides left in the Libertadores at the Quarter final stage. Past form has told us that sides that progress in the continental tournament struggle tremendously to battle on two fronts and therefore we can expect these sides league form to take a hit.