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1. juli 2013 08:59
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Colombia Primera A Wrap: Millonarios stay alive

Reigning Colombia Primera A champions Millonarios have kept their hopes of another title alive with a 2-1 win over Santa Fe.

http://www.youtube.com/w…D7GlxGKe7v0


A late brace from Fredy Montero gave Millonarios victory as they continued their bid for a place in the championship final, moving within three points of Group A leaders Santa Fe with a round to play in the semi-final stages of the Primera A.

Santa Fe have 10 points at the top of Group A with Millonarios (seven points), Deportivo Cali (six) and Once Caldas (four) making up the rest of the pool, while in Group B, Deportes Tolima remain top on seven ahead of Deportivo Pasto, Itagui (both six) and Atletico Nacional (four).

The winners of each group will face off for the 2013 Apertura championship – the first half of the Colombian league season – in a two-legged play-off.

Millonarios, who won the 2012 Clausura championship, entered Saturday´s game against Bogata rivals Santa Fe knowing anything but a win would mean they would miss out on the Apertura decider.

The situation got worse for Millonarios in the opening minute when Santa Fe scored thanks to Julian Lalinde´s header after his team-mate Cristian Borja headed the ball back across goal from a free-kick.

But when Borja was shown two yellow cards in three second-half minutes, Santa Fe lost their momentum and Montero equalised for Millonarios in the 77th minute, thrashing a free-kick into the top corner off one step.

Montero´s second goal came six minutes later as he chipped Santa Fe goalkeeper Juan Manuel Leyton to hand Millonarios a crucial victory.

Millonarios will overhaul Santa Fe in the final round of the semi-final stage with a win over Once Caldas, while the latter will need to lose to Deportivo Cali.

In other Colombian league results over the weekend, Once Caldas defeated Cali 2-1, Tolima were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Nacional and Itagui won 1-0 away to Pasto.

http://www.youtube.com/w…J4maZWjnty0

http://www.youtube.com/w…JBP3sIrFXYI

http://www.youtube.com/w…qjubo--PVs8
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Ecuador Primera A Wrap: LDU Quito book Copa Sudamericana place

Former Copa Sudamericana champions LDU Quito have qualified for the 2013 edition after finishing second in Ecuador´s Primera A first stage.

LDU Quito won 2-1 away to Universidad Catolica on Sunday to wrap up second position in the Primera A´s first stage, securing a berth in this year´s Copa Sudamericana, as did Independiente, who thumped Manta 3-0 to claim third spot.

http://www.youtube.com/w…azG24qD4TL8

Independiente and LDU´s victories in the final round ensured they stayed ahead of Deportivo Quito and Barcelona on the Ecuadorian league standings.

At Universidad Catolica´s Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, LDU – Copa Sudamericana champions in 2011 – hit the front in the 19th minute when Francisco Rojas burst through the middle of the home side´s defence, played a one-two with Carlos Arboleda and finished into the bottom corner.

While Catolica equalised with three minutes left in the first half thanks to Federico Laurito´s fine strike on the turn from Elvis Patta´s right-wing cross, LDU wrapped up victory just after half-time when Carlos Feraud thumped the ball home from the edge of the box.

Emelec, who had already secured the title as first-stage champions, celebrated their success with a scoreless draw away to bottom club Macara, while Independiente qualified for South America´s second-tier continental tournament with three second-half strikes against Manta.

Daniel Angulo gave Independiente the lead in the 46th minute before Armando Solis made it 2-0 five minutes later, while Fernando Guerrero wrapped up the scoring with a 72nd-minute goal.

http://www.youtube.com/w…JwdHAvpD6i4

In other Primera A results, Barcelona defeated Deportivo Quevedo 2-0, Deportivo Cuenca drew 1-1 with El Nacional and Deportivo Quito triumphed 2-0 over LDU Loja.

http://www.youtube.com/w…VtiDsoKAF1g

http://www.youtube.com/w…KvGsvSuEJuU

http://www.youtube.com/w…MXsVcSRo748
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Paraguay Division Profesional Wrap: Champions lose again

Nacional Asuncion have completed a terrible finish to the Paraguay Division Profesional, losing 2-0 to Cerro Porteno.

The 2013 Apertura champions, who wrapped up the first-stage title a month ago, lost their fourth consecutive game in the final round of the Division Profesional as Julio dos Santos and Ivan Torres scored the goals for Cerro Porteno, who moved up to third spot.

With Nacional set to begin their Copa Sudamericana campaign at the end of the month, their head coach Gustavo Morinigo will be concerned by his team´s form as they have lost five of their past six games.

In Friday´s game at Nacional´s Estadio Arsenio Erico, the visitors hit the front in the 18th minute when dos Santos converted from the spot and Cerro Porteno wrapped up victory with 19 minutes remaining thanks to Torres´ nice finish on the counter-attack.

Guarani clinched second position in the Apertura standings with a 2-1 victory over Cerro Porteno PF, while Libertad slipped to fourth in the final round after a 1-1 draw away to General Diaz.

In other Division Profesional results over the weekend, Sol de America claimed a 2-1 victory on the road at Olimpia, Sportivo Luqueno drew 2-2 with Deportivo Capiata and Rubio Nu triumphed 2-1 over Deportivo Carapegua.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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1. juli 2013 09:44
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Bernard’s Brazil appearances increase European transfer interest

Atlético Mineiro attacking midfielder Bernard has been a part of the Brazil squad for the Confederations Cup, and the few appearances he’s made have further enhanced his profile.

His current manager, Cuca, admits that his performances when called upon by Brazil will make keeping hold of the player increasingly difficult.

“We might not be able to keep hold [of the player], but this is a natural thing, it´s up to us to use Bernard in [the Copa] Libertadores and then if it turns out he is transferred, it is up to us to make another Bernard," said Cuca.

Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk are amongst the teams who have shown interest in signing the player, and it’s thought that a move could come after the Copa Libertadores finishes on July 23.

Shakhtar are currently the favourites to sign him, having shown the most interest with an offer of 23 million Euros, but Tottenham will hope to make a move after the Confederations Cup when their representatives will talk to Atletico MG president Alexandre Kalil.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Brazil dominates Spain to win the Confederations Cup

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari said he wanted to send a message. We got it, loud and clear: Brazil are back.

It didn´t take the emphatic and historic 3-0 win over Spain to realize things were finally coming together for the Selecao, but for the crowd at the Maracana and the tens of millions more green-and-gold devotees, it was a nice exclamation mark.

The antidote to La Roja was neither sophisticated nor unexpected. But sometimes it´s not about coming up with a brilliant plan; it´s about executing a simple plan well. And ensuring the breaks go your way.

Fred scored for Brazil in the second minute before fans even had a chance to settle in.

Brazil were fresher. They had an extra day to prepare and were not coming off the brutal 120 minutes-plus penalty that Spain had to deal with Thursday against Italy in Salvador. So Scolari amped up the tempo, instilling a frenetic pace -- by Brazil standards -- in the first 20 minutes that seemed to stun Spain. The Selecao went as physical as referee Bjorn Kuipers would allow, and they did it intelligently.

Sure, Fred´s early goal made things a heck of a lot easier. It brought the crowd into the match straight away, it gave them a spring in their step. But even without that score after just two minutes, you could tell Spain were rattled.

Of course, nobody can play at that pace for the entire game. Not without taking huge risks on the counterattack. And this is where Brazil got the rub of the green. Four minutes from halftime David Luiz´s dramatic goal-line clearance avoided the equalizer. And shortly thereafter, Neymar, gambling on being offside, made it 2-0.

Needless to say, the sequence changed the game. The hill Spain needed to climb became a whole mountain range. And Scolari was able to reset Brazil´s tempo, bringing it back in line with a pace at which they felt comfortable.

The death of Tiki-taka?

You´ll read plenty now about the demise of Spain and the death of Tiki-taka. Take it with a grain of salt.

Brazil played well and had few breaks go against them. On the day, they were the better team. And Vicente Del Bosque made some choices that were questionable at best.

You may recall that in my preview I made the point that too many options can be a bad thing. For Del Bosque, evidently, they were. This was not a game for Juan Mata´s skill set -- not in the way it panned out in the early going anyway. (Maybe one day we´ll figure out what was really up with Cesc Fabregas, who remained on the bench.) Picking on Fernando Torres is a national sport in some places. The best you can say is that, against Brazil, apart from one gorgeous reverse pass that led to David Luiz´s goal-line clearance, he contributed very little.

Would Roberto Soldado or David Villa have done better? It´s the benefit of hindsight. And the price you pay for having too many options.

But it´s worth remembering that, despite the conditions, despite the hostile crowd, despite Del Bosque´s backfiring choices, despite Brazil´s performance, Spain still missed a penalty and were denied by a superhuman Luiz. These guys might not win back-to-back World Cups when they return here next summer, but they´ll come close.

Neymar living up to the hype

This was supposed to be Neymar´s coming out party against top European opposition and he lived up to the hype. Any Eurosnobs harboring doubts ahead of his huge move to Barcelona may want to think again.

Critics will point out aspects of his game that need to change. He goes down too easily even when it´s unnecessary. He could muscle up a bit. But watching him in person, in full flight, you can see just why some put him in the same conversation as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Compared to the other two, Neymar lacks their finishing (for now... he´s genuinely two-footed and it´s an area where he can improve) and their presence (yes, Messi might be small, but he has plenty of presence). But in terms of vision and unselfishness, he might be ahead of them. The ease with which he sees and executes passes to teammates with an array of deft, creative touches -- often delivered in full flight -- is, frankly, terrifying.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Final defeat not the death of Tiki-taka or Spain


Let´s get this out of the way up top. Yes, this was a beat down. No, Tiki-taka is not dead. And neither is this Spanish team.

It´s always tempting to draw broad conclusions, to spot themes and trends.

You have Barcelona and Real Madrid trounced in the Champions´ League semifinal. Spain being given a rough ride by a Balotelli-less Italy. And now this.

But sometimes you can rush to judgment. For a start, Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho weren´t exactly a Tiki-taka side. And Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, tried to play exactly the kind of short-passing, possession game that Tiki-taka is founded on. So rumors of its demise are decidedly premature.

You can lose because your opponent outplays you. Or because you make poor choices. Or because you don´t get the breaks.

And sometimes it´s all three factors converging, which is what happened to Spain.

"We lost to a very good team who played a great game and scored straight away," said Sergio Ramos. "That made it all uphill for us. In the first half hour, they were all over us, they were physical, they were intense, we couldn´t bring the ball out of the back the way we wanted."

That´s the "credit Brazil" part. As for not getting the breaks, you only need to look to Ramos´ missed penalty ("I tried to angle it, but I got it wrong," he said. "It can happen.") to David Luiz´s goal-line clearance, to Fred´s fortuitous goal, scored while he was prone on the Maracana pitch.

Al Pacino was right in "Any Given Sunday" when he gave his "Game of Inches" speech.

But it goes beyond that. When you press the way Brazil do, you leave gaps. Gaps on which a needle-threading team like Spain ordinarily can feast. But not on Sunday night. Not against this Brazil side.

"They chased us all over the pitch, they weren´t afraid to be physical and get stuck in and it broke our rhythm," said Vicente Del Bosque. "It´s not an excuse, it´s an explanation."

And that´s where the Spain boss has to shoulder some of the blame. Against the press that Luiz Felipe Scolari laid out early on, it might have been a good idea to mix it up a little, perhaps with the odd ball over the top to Fernando Torres or Pedro, just to stretch the opposition. It´s always tough to go a goal down so early in the game and, truth be told, it´s not the sort of thing to which Spain are accustomed. But you need a plan for a fight back and Del Bosque´s simply didn´t work.

Despite winning the competition´s Golden Boot, Fernando Torres failed to fire in the Confederations Cup final.

Then there were the personnel decisions. It´s not so much Alvaro Arbeloa -- he did have a nightmare against Neymar, but then you´re not going to drop the guy who got you there and played consistently well in previous outings -- as it was opting for Juan Mata and Fernando Torres. Mata was simply muscled off the ball too often, forced into blind alleys, harangued by the double pivot of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho when he came inside (as was Andres Iniesta, to be fair) and stranded and isolated when he turned wide. Del Bosque had options that were pacier (Jesus Navas), more combative (Cesc Fabregas) and more physical (Javi Martinez). With hindsight, each might have been more effective.

As for Torres, apart from the reverse pass to set up Pedro´s chance that Luiz cleared, he did little off the ball, and less on it, partly because he was getting the wrong kind of service, partly because he simply isn´t the player he was. The David Villa brigade will argue it would have been a different story with El Guaje from the start. Maybe they´re right. Certainly, having Torres on the pitch and using him in this manner tends to turn him into a passenger.

Del Bosque was gracious in defeat.

"We didn´t get carried away when we won, we´re not going to now that we´ve lost," he said. "We know how difficult it is to win. Maybe once in a while it´s good to lose, so we don´t believe in our own invincibility."

If Spain can take those words on board and coolly examine what went wrong -- not just against Brazil, but in the semifinal too -- they´ll be just fine. Because it´s not their style of play that´s dead, but as with most such things, it´s about finding a way of playing that suits your talents, and Spain are both stacked with talent and suited to playing this way. This was simply a night where a convergence of factors cost them the final.

The challenge is to study these factors and minimize the chance of them happening again. Do that and Spain will be, just as they were before the tournament began, the favorites to win it all in the World Cup. Where it really counts.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Italy win shootout to finish third

Gianluigi Buffon was Italy´s hero as his three penalty saves in the shootout saw the Azzurri to victory and a third-place finish in the Confederations Cup, at the expense of Uruguay.

The two sides drew 2-2 after 120 minutes with Italy creating the majority of the chances. Davide Astori put the Italians ahead after 25 minutes before Edinson Cavani levelled the scores after the interval.

Alessandro Diamanti restored the Italians´ lead after 73 minutes, before Cavani netted again to make the score 2-2 and take the game into extra-time, where Riccardo Montolivo saw red after picking up two bookings.

Then Buffon came into his own, saving from Diego Forlan, Martin Caceres and Walter Gargano to win the game for Italy.

Uruguay started the game strongly and Forlan was the first to test either stopper, with his dipping free kick forcing Buffon to dive low.

A free-flowing move from Italy culminated with a scuffed shot from Antonio Candreva after 15 minutes before the Italians went ahead eight minutes later.

A Diamanti free-kick ricocheted off the post and onto Uruguay stopper Fernando Muslera, with the ball falling to Astori, who from a yard out, tapped home.

Luis Suarez got in behind the Italian backline before hitting a rasping shot which tested Buffon just before the half hour mark, before Maxi Pereira forced a decent stop from the Juventus man before the break.

The pressure told 12 minutes after the restart when a well-weighted pass from Alvaro Gonzalez found an unmarked Cavani who slotted into the far corner past Buffon´s outstretched left hand.

Diamanti restored Italy´s lead with 17 minutes left with a wonderful 25 yard free-kick which gave Muslera no chance.

It was feat replicated by Cavani three minutes later as his powerful effort was too much for Buffon, who could not get his feet moving to get across in time to keep the Napoli striker´s effort out.

Italy had to play the final 10 minutes of extra-time with 10 men following Montolivo´s second yellow for a late challenge on Suarez, but Uruguay could not get past Buffon.

And Forlan could not do so with his spot kick, while Alberto Aquilani, Cavani, Stephan El Shaarawy, Suarez all scored before Mattia De Sciglio´s miss brought the South Americans back into the shootout.

However Caceres missed and Emanuele Giaccherini scored before Buffon saved Gargano´s effort.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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Golden chance for El Tri to regain footing

Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre hopes to change El Tri´s fortune in the Gold Cup when it begins July 7.

The first CONCACAF Gold Cup was won by the United States, beating Honduras in the 1991 final. The Americans have captured four Gold Cup trophies in all (the others in 2002, 2005 and 2007).

Mexico, however, has won more Gold Cup titles than any other country, claiming six (1993, ´95, ´97, 2003, ´09, ´11). El Tri won the last two tournaments at the United States´ expense in the finals, outscoring them a combined 9-2.

Nine goals is more than Mexico has scored in all their matches this year, however. Neither of the players who did score for El Tri this year, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Aldo de Nigris, will play in the Gold Cup, which gets underway Sunday July 7 as Mexico plays Panama at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Hernandez is resting after a long season in England combined with the added weight of Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying duties. De Nigris is injured. In fact, striker Raul Jimenez is the lone holdover from the Confederations Cup roster. In general, though the Gold Cup roster features several Liga MX stars, they are young and inexperienced on the international level.

Scoring goals, always a focus for any team, has become a mission only sometimes possible for El Tri.

In a training match Saturday, the El Tri Gold Cup squad lost 1-0 to Cruz Azul Hidalgo, a lower-division Mexican club team. More than the loss, however, the difficulty with scoring again highlighted something that has become a major issue for Mexico this year.

Teams gain confidence when they have finishers who can complete winning plays. The connection between midfielders and forwards to create goals depends on trust and an understanding of how teammates will move and when. Even Hernandez has struggled often this year due to lack of service from the midfield.

The fragility of the Gold Cup forward situation has also been compounded because veteran striker Omar Bravo refused a call-up, citing “personal reasons”. That excuse, a favorite of another El Tri hold-out, Carlos Vela, deprives the squad of an experienced player who could help settle the young team.

Jimenez, Javier "Chuletita" Orozco and Rafael Marquez Lugo are the forwards who will be depended on to score for Mexico. Granted, any player on the field can score for El Tri, but their Gold Cup forwards are the ones who have that primary responsibility. Another young player, Isaac Brizuela, may contribute, but more important, Mexico will cap-tie him over the U.S. in the competition.

Of course, the new roster=change rules for the Gold Cup would allow other able strikers, such as Oribe Peralta, to join the squad after the group stage. The Santos Laguna player, still recovering from a leg injury, could perhaps be a bit of a secret weapon in the latter stages of the competition.

Although the U.S. and Mexico have met five times in the Gold Cup final, the truth of how the squads have dominated shows in their overall record. Either one or the other of the squad have played in every Gold Cup final in history but one, in 2000, when Canada defeated Colombia. Canada is still the only team besides the U.S. or Mexico to win the title.

However, the fact three other CONCACAF squads have made the final and had a shot at the title should remind both El Tri and the U.S. that complacency can be deadly. With World Cup qualifying proving that Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica have quality squads this year, Mexico can’t afford to look past other regional rivals in anticipation of another final against the U.S., even if that scenario is expected by many.

In some ways, it appears as if Mexico coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre is hedging his bets on the young squad, leaving assistant Salvador Reyes nominally in charge. De la Torre could be distancing himself from any fall-out if the Gold Cup Mexico squad performs poorly.

During Saturday´s loss, however, de la Torre was on the sideline with Reyes and reportedly yelling instructions during the second half.

There’s no doubt that de la Torre would prefer that Mexico fans remember the comeback 4-2 victory over the U.S. from 2011, but that seems long ago and far away now that the 2013 results have disappointed.

Another Gold Cup rule change also means this tournament counts for more than before -- the champion qualifies for a playoff against the 2015 winner for a place in the next Confederations Cup (no playoff would be required if this year´s champion repeats).

Mexico has never won the Gold Cup three times in a row, but with young talents eager to prove themselves to de la Torre before the World Cup, a good showing is expected. Of course, many more goals have been expected from El Tri this year as well. The current ´scoring block´ is something that the team will have to overcome in order to succeed.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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U20 World Cup: Quintero inspires Colombia as Porto move nears

Name: Juan Fernando Quintero
Age: 20
Club: Pescara
Position: Attacking midfield
Nationality: Colombia


Los Cafeteros of Colombia entered the 2013 Under-20 World Cup among the favourites for the title, having claimed the South American Youth Championship crown in January. Three games into the tournament, and they have only reinforced their challenger status, with an opening draw quickly rectified with two victories and first place in the Group C standings. With an uninspiring South Korea side next up in the last 16, and a fixture with the winner of Iraq versus Paraguay awaiting in the quarterfinals, a route to the final four has seemingly opened up for Carlos Alberto Restrepo Isaza and his side.

A fine side they are, as well. Goalkeeper Cristian Bonilla is already a regular starter with national giants Atletico Nacional, centre-back Jherson Vergara Amu is heading for AC Milan this summer, while central midfielders Sebastian Perez and Jose Leudo are among the best partnerships at the tournament. Ahead of them winger Andres Renteria and striker Jhon Cordoba have also already earned moves to the Liga MX, and have both played important roles thus far this tournament. However, for all the quality dotted around the side, it is Pescara central playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero who is the undoubted leading light of the side.

Quintero, who joined the Serie A club from Atletico Nacional last summer, has long been identified as one of the most talented footballers in South America. However, both in January´s tournament and the ongoing competition in Turkey, he has shown that he has the capability to be truly special. It is potential that has been seen in flashes at Pescara, but was ultimately limited by the club´s doomed effort to remain in the Italian top flight. However, in adversity may come opportunity, with Pescara´s plight opening the path for a quick upgrade from the Stadio Adriatico in the shape of Portuguese giants Porto.

According to reports, a ¬10 million deal has been struck that will see Quintero arrive at the Dragao this summer where he will join countryman Jackson Martinez. Colombians have a great track record at Porto in recent years, with Fredy Guarin, Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez all having gone on to big money moves out of the club, and Quintero will hope to continue the trend. Quite where he will fit in Porto´s regular 4-3-3 formation remains to be seen, with it likely he may have to move to a wider role, however it is a great opportunity for him to gain experience challenging for trophies and in the Champions League.

First, though, attention will be on completing the task in hand in Turkey. Quintero has started the tournament impressively, scoring two fine goals in victories over Turkey and El Salvador, but Colombia´s targets for the tournament are bigger than simply reaching the knockout stages. It is now for the diminutive midfielder to prove that he can influence games against better opponents and inspire his side to a place in at least the semifinal. He has the potential to write his name firmly into the tournament´s history, but will need to up his levels of performance.

Ultimately, as well as Quintero as performed thus far, it is in the knockout stages of competitions in which the very best players make their mark. He has scored goals and looked consistently threatening, but he can still improve his levels of control on games in the coming weeks. If he can, then he has team-mates capable of converting chances and taking Colombia to success. At that point, the reported transfer fee with which Porto are parting with will look somewhat of a bargain.

The elegant No. 10 is a role that is central to South American footballing philosophy, with the player expected to be the brains of the team in attacking areas, and Quintero is very much a continuation of this tradition. While bothered little by defensive matters, he is always looking to move into space, to pick out a pass with his cliched "cultured left-foot" or to get a shot on goal. He is a player that an attacking unit can be built around, which is the case for Colombia at the moment.

At Porto, though, he may have to learn to adapt his natural game—for better or worse. He will be expected to press higher up the pitch and, if used wide, to be positionally and defensively disciplined. However he is used, it will all be part of a learning process and will help develop him as a player. The elite sides in European football at present require every player to be part of the defensive unit, and then to collectively spring forward on the counter as a unit. Quintero could therefore learn much from a couple of seasons outside of his comfort zone, before possibly return to central areas later on.

The World Cup next summer may come too soon for him to feature as a starter for Jose Pekerman´s Colombia side, but he will almost certainly travel to Brazil among the 23-man party as back up for new Monaco star Rodriguez. A good season with Porto, though, and he will be in prime position to take advantage of any loss of form by one of those in possession of a shirt. A big few weeks lie ahead for the young star, but we are currently witnessing the early stages of what threatens to be a very promising career indeed.

Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


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A season to remember in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentine football, for better or worse, never stands still for long. And it´s for that reason - and seemingly no other - that the format of the top flight here changed again in the season just gone. On the face of it, it´s been the same as ever, but there have been some cosmetic alterations that have done more to confuse than to improve the league.

We´ll begin with the relegation of one of the biggest clubs in the country - and indeed the world - for the first time in their history. No, reader, you haven´t been transported back in time two years, don´t worry. I´m not talking about River Plate - there´ll be more about them later - but Independiente.

Following River´s relegation in 2011, Independiente and Boca Juniors were the only two clubs in Argentina never to have been relegated, and along with Arsenal de Sarandí, who came up to the Primera in 2002, were the only three never to have dropped down from the top flight.

Independiente had been in the Primera since 1912, and their longevity and proud history both domestically and continentally (they´re the most successful club in the history of the Copa Libertadores, with seven trophies) will make seeing them in the second division as strange an experience in many ways as it was watching River there.

A point many thought would be in Independiente´s favour in their battle against the drop was the fact that Julio Grondona, the president of the Argentine FA, is an Independiente fan. There were conspiratorial whispers among fans of other clubs claiming Independiente wouldn´t be allowed to go down.

By mid-March, though, they were in far deeper water than River had been at the same stage two years previously. Their situation was worsened by the fact that the relegation system has been changed slightly in Argentina this season; whereas previously two sides would drop straight down and the two just above them would play off against the third and fourth-placed sides from the division below, as from this year the bottom three go straight down, with no play-offs.

When Independiente had a mini-revival, winning three out of four and drawing the other against championship leaders Lanús, hope reared its head, but the wins had all come against sides in poor form, including San Martín, who themselves were relegated on the last day by a 3-1 defeat away to River.

Towards the end of the season, reality reasserted itself for Independiente. It seems that even in a league such as Argentina, where the AFA was long managed by the whims of the country´s ´Big Five´ clubs (River, Independiente, Boca Juniors, Racing and San Lorenzo), there really is no club too big - or well-connected - to go down these days. As I type, nearly two weeks on from the relegation, barra bravas and fans are rioting at the club´s general assembly - the latest in many deplorable off-pitch incidents so far in 2013, which included police shooting dead a Lanús fan in La Plata.

River themselves can be quietly satisfied with their first season back in the Primera. Eighth in the Torneo Inicial but second in the Final, over the course of 2012-13 they had the third best points total, and a year after returning to the Primera they´ve secured continental qualification for the first time in four years - they´ll be in the Copa Sudamericana when the new season gets underway in August. The football has rarely lived up to the standards River fans expect, but results at least have been good enough to give them a platform to build on next season.

Even better for River fans was that their bitter rivals Boca Juniors have had the worst campaign in their history; they finished second bottom of the Torneo Final with just eighteen points from nineteen matches, and were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores on penalties by Newell´s Old Boys, a side who are now on the verge of making history.

That´s because Newell´s claimed the Torneo Final title, and the fact that they´re still in the Libertadores gives them the opportunity to become the first side to win both the first of Argentina´s two annual championships and the Libertadores. They lost an unusually high number of matches for a championship-winning side - five - as midweek distractions sometimes got the better of them, and it´s the first time since 1997 that the side finishing second have lost fewer games than the team in top spot. Even so, it´s still hard to argue Newell´s don´t deserve their crown.

They´ve scored forty goals in nineteen games - more than any side since Leonardo Astrada´s River Plate in 2004. Twelve wins is also a more than respectable tally, but what doesn´t come through in mere numbers is just how great Newell´s have been to watch. In a league where economic realities make it hard to keep a group of good players together for very long, it´s not often that we get to witness collective play and as attacking an ethos as that which manager Gerardo Martino instilled into his side.

Forward Ignacio Scocco has led the line superbly as well, and as with his manager, has been linked with a move abroad once the club´s Libertadores campaign is over.

Before the semi-finals kick off, Newell´s have the distraction on Saturday of the ´Superfinal´ against Vélez Sarsfield; this season the AFA have decided there will be a final between the winners of the season´s two championships to decide an overall season champion.

Ridiculously, with both sides having been credited with a championship win for their ´short championship´ victories during the season, whoever wins this one match will be allowed to list another national championship on their record. It remains to be seen, of course, how seriously everyone will take this, but personally I sincerely hope it will be seen for the farce it is.

Farcical title play-offs aside, though, it´s been a championship to remember for many reasons in Argentina.
Brasil: Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense, Botafogo (100% Carioca) Rio > Säo Paulo


Indigente Cheto - "Uruguay Rusia Egipto Arabia Saudita. Tenemos mas chances de un atentado que de quedar eliminados"

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