Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Copa Libertadores Final Preview - Courtesy Of Mauro & Jon

We had one our reader giving us his taught about his beloved football club prior to the Champions League. I’m sure all of us agree, what amazing piece of write up was that.

Now here comes South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. Unfortunately this time, we won’t be having any clubs from Argentina. Instead an historical moment as both teams that will play are will win the trophy for the first time in their colourful history.


Firstly to talk about the much surprise Ecuadorian side, I would like to introduce my friend Mauro, an avid supporter of River Plate who writes for
The Offiside – Copa Libertadores to speak about this team fantastic journey, with a little help from a trio of Albicelestes.

After beating quite a few of South America's big names in this year's Copa Libertadores, LDU Quito has made it to the big dance at the end for the first time in their club's history. They've won their local tournament three times since the turn of the century and were on track to pick up their fourth this season but their fantastic run in the continental tournament forced them to save their best players for the decisive midweek matches therefore, relinquishing their stranglehold on the Ecuadorian league.

LDU Quito caught my eye early on in this competition when, in their group 8 matches, they held Wednesday's opponent Fluminense to a draw in Quito and then handily beat Libertad of Paraguay, to draw at the top of the group with Flu. Of course it wasn't only the results that caught my eye but rather the style with which those results were achieved. They played a wonderful, entertaining and attacking brand of football, one in which they played the ball along the pitch in a very particular way and fielded a team built around a central column of three players that grew up living and breathing football and all three from the very cradle of our beloved Argentina. Now while they are not all the marquee players for their squad, they are all very important for the team and strategy to function properly.

Breaking up plays in the midfield and initiator of the offensive game, Norberto ARAUJO marshalls the defensive holding midfielder role alongside Patricio URRUTIA. ARAUJO has the best view of the offense from his spot on the pitch and can easily spot one of many offensive midfield options like, Luís BOLANOS, Joffre GUERRON, and Damian MANSO. I believe that it's due to his good defensive duties that URRUTIA is able to project himself forward and add his name to the scoring tally as often as he does.
Despite being born in Rosario, the 29 year old ARAUJO started his career in Argentina's second division, as so many of our countries youngsters do, all the way across the country at Club Atlético Aldosivi of Mar Del Plata in 1998. But after one short year at Aldosivi, he transferred to Arsenal de Sarandi in 2000 but shortly thereafter logged some time with Racing de Córdoba in 2001. Unable to find the first division football he longed for, the 26 year old left Argentina in 2002, in search of greener pastures as many of our younger boys do. But this search did not lead him across the pond to Europe, instead somewhere much closer, on the same continent, in the Peruvian first division with Sport Boys.

But it wasn't until 2004 when he transferred from Sport Boys to the bigger and much more storied Peruvian club, Sporting Cristal where he began to have a much more profound role. WIth Sporting Cristal, he won two back to back Peruvian league cups in 2005 and in 2006. It was in 2007 where he caught the eye of Argentine coach Edgardo BAUZA who was in charge of LDU Quito and had him brought over to Ecuador. He pulled on the LDU Quito white jersey and contributed to bringing the club the Ecuadorian league title in his first season with the club.

Pulling the strings in the midfield is Damian MANSO. When he started his career in Argentina, I remember he created quite a stir in the league at Newell's Old Boys including talk of being a called up to the national team. Although those predictions never came into fruition, he did not fail to leave his mark on the league. He is small, has a low center of gravity so he is able to turn on a dime and talented enough to make sure the ball is with him on that turn. Since his younger days he's added some positive pounds that have given him a stalky build and he's most likely a lot harder to push off the ball. He is LDU's undisputed playmaker and is in charge of finding Joffre GUERRON or Claudio BIELER up front and linking in the midfield with Enrique VERA, URRUTIA and BOLANOS.
A native of Rosario, he chose to be part of the red and black side of the city. He played 5 years with Newell's before being finally picked up by a European team, SC Bastia. Unfortunately, after two seasons and few opportunites on the starting squad, Manso was forced to come back to Argentina after failing to adapt completely to French football. Newell's welcomed him back with open arms but only a season later, he was transferred to Independiente where hopes were high as the club had put together an amazing team around him (including the young but surging Sergio AGUERO). But the team failed to gel and after a year Damían was back home at Newell's.

This stay in Rosario only lasted one year and was again transferred to Europe only this time his plane landed in Greece. And again, after only one year and trouble breaking into the first team at Skoda Xanthi FC in the Greek Super League, he came back to South America at the beckoning of BAUZA and the promise of a team able to give him the freedom he needed in order to really flourish.

And flourish he has. Displaying adeptness to laying off precise passes that end in the back of the net of the opposing goal-keeper and capable of taking his own shots, even from outside the penalty area, and scoring when necessary.

Leading the way up front is Claudio BIELER, the main threat on the forward line and the destination of most crosses. He doesn't have a large body to beat defenders man on man but he has plenty of speed and can beat them off the ball while having great ball control to boot. His job is to keep an eye on MANSO who creeps around in front of the defenders, BOLANOS, who runs up the left side and also on GUERRON, who charges up the right side. While it's been a few matches since he's scored, his position is still quite important because he is able to keep defenders busy while his teammates work their magic for him.
BIELER was born in Santa Fe and was lucky enough (or good enough) to make it onto the local first division team, Colón de Santa Fe. He made his first division debut with the club in 2005. But at the time, Colón had one of the best strikers in their history on the pitch, Esteban FUERTES and one of the country's young future characters, Germán DENIS, was hot on his heels for a starting spot. Needless to say, the competition for the starting spot was fierce. Seeing the surplus of talent, Colón loaned BIELER out to second division side, Atlético Rafaela, also located in Santa Fe, to give Bieler a chance to settle into a starting position. He played 38 matches and scored 16 goals. Not bad for a player forced to go somewhere and adapt quickly to a new team, teammates, coach and environment.

But as I said before, as many of our youngsters do, BIELER received an opportunity to go abroad to find a place in the footballing world. But he stayed in South America as well and headed to Chilean giants, Colo Colo. At the time, Claudio BORGHI was the coach and revamped the team who had found themselves in quite the rut. BIELER made 21 starts for Colo Colo but failed to set the league on fire with only 6 goals. Despite that, he did win his league title with Colo Colo. The win that qualified them for this year's Copa Libertadores. Shortly thereafter, BIELER was on the short list again, and made a move to yet another Argentine coached club, LDU Quito. So far this season, he's featured 8 times for the club and netted 4 goals.

Edgardo BAUZA has used him up front in many pivotal matches in this run of Libertadores matches and I fully expect to see him suited up and ready to go for the final matches.

While LDU Quito stand to make history, it's not just a credit to these three players, the team as a whole has showed plenty of effort and sacrifice. The historic step they'll take on Wednesday is a testament to the strategic planning and formation on the pitch put together by Edgardo BAUZA and his assistants who found the right elements for each position and have found a way to make this little train that could, storm past South American teams with rich histories. Past opponents include, Estudiantes de La Plata (three time Libertadores winners) and San Lorenzo of Almagro (top contenders this season). LDU Quito also showed the solvency to put away difficult teams like Libertad and Arsenal de Sarandi and get points that one could consider, accessible and decisive when facing tougher opposition.

So, while BAUZA and his boys put on their best dancing shoes for Wednesday night's big party, their dance partner Fluminense Football Club, will be hoping that they can take the music, twist it, turn it and make it more like a Brazilian samba and less like an Argentine tango.

In the same land where once upon a time Carlos TEVEZ and Javier MASCHERANO were crowed kings, comes another Albiceleste that is aiming to put his name on the map. After all it he did played his part in knocking out Johnny’s beloved Boca in the semis. For this part, I was lucky enough to have Jon Cotterill (an Englishman based in Sao Paolo) from
Pitaco Do Gringo’s to write to us about this interesting player.

After seven games, Fluminense are currently at the bottom of the league with two points - four goals for and ten against. They have yet to win a game but their position has something to do with the fact that they have rested players before Libertadores games. However, Fluminense will put out full-strength teams on at least two occasions but even they have managed to pick up just one point.

The poor form in the league is a matter of some concern and if LDU score early in the first leg, some of the Fluminense player's heads may drop. Coach Renato GAUCHO has said that Fluminense are fully focussed for Wednesday's game but warned his players that any lapse in concentration could be costly. The Rio side are determined not to concede a goal in Ecuador so may start the game with a slightly more defensive posture than usual.

Dario CONCA has plenty of pace and mobility, apart from that he always makes himself available for others. Add to his already natural talent, he also has ability to strike from free-kicks and you can see why he was so highly-rated in the Brasileiro last year when he was at Vasco.
Coach Renato GAUCHO just knows how to get the best from his diminutive midfielder (he's only 1.67m). It is likely that CONCA will be paired with Thiago NEVES and the two will be the driving force for Fluminense in the middle of the park.

CONCA has already scored twice in the Copa Libertadores campaign – the last one against Boca Juniors in the second-leg of the semis. He has yet to hit the back of the net in the league though but his role on Wednesday will be more focused on setting up chances for the likes of DODO and WASHINGTON.

Before I end this article, I would like to say a BIG thanks to both our guest bloggers at Mundo for sharing with us their passion about football in their respective field. I had a great pleasure reading them.

To Mauro, on behalf of Mundo, our prayers and thoughts goes out to your family. As for Jon, our sincere hope that your daughter will get well soon.

28 comments:

johnny said...

Very nice report ! Much thanks to all involved. I have a question about Guerron. A long time Boca Juniors fan and friend of mine, remarked that he seems to remember Guerron playing for a Boca Juniors youth team some time ago. Seems unlikely, but does anybody have some knowledge about this ?

holytoledo2 said...

Johnny,
I did a write up about this very topic on my Libertadores blog.

http://libertadores.theoffside.com/news/guerron-packs-his-bags.html

Guerrón was rumored to be on a short list for Boca and Club América of Mexico but my guess is that the jump to Europe was too tempting.

johnny said...

Holy Toledo ! Thanks !

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