Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Looking forward to the Big Cups

You can see that season is coming by the ringing of the bells.

In case of the Copa Libertadores and the Uefa Champions League, the world's two premier football club competitions, the bells come in form of press coverage, which leads to word of mouth, side bets with friends, and that sort of thing.

The Libertadores

I'm glad that Europe is increasingly keener on South American football. After last year's good coverage of Copa America (I was in Belgium then, and could watch all matches I wanted), it seems that the Libertadores will also be treated as it should. In two of my favorite readings (BBC Sport and Guardian Unlimited Football), balanced and informed articles were written recently on the subject.

But, while the always excellent Tim Vickery of the BBC pits the cup as Brazilians x Boca, and flashes São Paulo as the strongest contender, the Guardian's Conrad Leach takes a road less traveled and invites readers for a gamble bet on Cruzeiro.

I am not sure how much Mr Leach wrote that just to show off how knowledgeable he is, or if he really believes Cruzeiro can stand up against Boca, SP and Flamengo. I for one am not convinced. As I commented in his blog, this Cruzeiro side looks refreshingly young, but not nearly as talented as the refreshingly young Santos of 2002. Which by the way lost against an experienced and catimbeiro Boca in June 2003. I'm more in agreement with André Rizek who paints them as unpredictable - not favorites, but likely to do damage.

The Champions League

Oh boy. Last night I was stuck in my Fantasy Football team selection. Round of 16 is tough, because you have to back up the likely winners to avoid costly transfers in the next round. And this year choosing the winners is not that simple.

Fair enough, Barça and Chelsea look pretty certain winners. Man United and Porto too, in spite of the bit stronger opposition. But then...

Real Madrid would edge past Roma with Robinho, but without him, who knows. Right, Robben and Higuain are as good subsitutes as Schuster could ever ask for; but still, will they gel so well with Raul and Ruud as Robinho did? And as for Sevilla and Fenerbahce, that's as random as African Cup semifinals. I favor the Spaniards for the recent expertise in European two-legged ties.

Finally, the crème de la crème. Runaway league leaders with a history of European underachievement, against the most traditional of European winners, who currently underachieve in the local leagues. (I should copyright that phrase. I wrote it myself, I swear). Arsenal x Milan and Inter x Liverpool are THE most mouthwatering round-of-16 ties since Chelsea x Barcelona in 2005.

Honestly, I have no prognosis on these. None whatsoever. Seriously. But I did take risks in Fantasy Football, and chose players from only one side of each of the ties. Who did I choose? Not gonna say now, Fabio, wait.

Last but not least: thank you uefa.com. Increasing the Fantasy Football "money" to 110 was really necessary, and just made the whole thing more fun by avoiding me to keep the reserve defenders from Celtic in my bench all the way through the final, just because they cost 3 "moneys". I actually really like my reserves this time.

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