South America

As Argentina's traditional clubs struggle three unlikely teams rise to the top, writes Rodrigo Orihuela

It was the year of the minnow in Argentine football. Two small teams from the suburbs of Buenos Aires – Lanús and Tigre – took the two top places in the championship and a third – Arsenal – won the Copa Sudamericana, second only to the Copa Libertadores. Arsenal’s story is probably the most eye-catching of all since the club, founded in 1957, only reached the top division in 2002. The club were set up by the two Grondona brothers, one of whom, Julio, has been FA chairman since 1979. The team are located in the industrial district of Avellaneda, also the home of giants Racing and Independiente, and have the smallest fan base in the first division – their average crowd last season was just 3,005.

Robert Shaw reports on how Flamengo seek to change history and become 1987 Copa União champions,  beating rivals São Paulo to five National Championships

Two popular Brazilian clubs, Flamengo and São Paulo, are at loggerheads over a title. Not this year’s national championship, which São Paulo won with four games to spare, but the Copa União of 1987. Official champions that year were Sport from Recife, but Flamengo argue that the title should go to them. São Paulo were recently given a special trophy for being the first team to win five national championships – this year’s title adding to those of 1977, 1986, 1991 and 2006 – while Flamengo are still on four, years after the disputed season. The commemoration of São Paulo’s penta (fifth) by the Brazilian federation (CBF) prompted an exchange of letters, a media campaign and a plague of rival T‑shirts. One São Paulo fan spent the equivalent of £1 million extolling his team on billboards in the capital Brasilia, while Flamengo legend Zico complained: “Everyone knows that the CBF did not recognise Flamengo’s title due to political disputes.”

Brazilian Kerlon's cheeky antics rile opponents, reports Robert Shaw

The controversy surrounding the drible da foca (seal dribble) of Cruzeiro’s teenage midfielder Kerlon has the makings of a modern Brazilian footballing fable. The storm centred on an incident in a remarkable match between Cruzeiro and local rivals Atlético MG on September 16. In the 80th minute, with his team leading 4-3, Kerlon’s trademark dribble – juggling the ball with his head while on the run – was brought to a shuddering halt by the intervention of opposition full-back Coelho, who barged violently into the Cruzeiro player. Coelho was sent off and later suspended for 120 days, effectively ending his season. But the episode has provoked a wider debate in Brazil about the boundary between tricks and provocation in football.

Dunga played for two of Brazil’s dullest coaches and is now following in their footsteps – but none the less his team conquered the opposition to win another Copa América. Rodrigo Orihuela reports

Were it not for Sebastião Lazaroni, Carlos Alberto Parreira would surely be remembered as Brazil’s most defensive coach ever. Parreira’s 1994 World Cup-winning side were the antithesis of stereotypical Brazilian jogo bonito, but managed to lift a major trophy.

Argentine giants Boca Juniors have won yet another Copa Libertadores – with a little help from a Mr Riquelme of Villarreal, who was just passing through Buenos Aires. Robert Shaw reports

The Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and Gremio failed to live up to expectations, with the Argentines winning 5‑0 on aggregate. Both legs were dominated by on-loan Juan Román Riquelme, whose two goals in the second leg overshadowed the more modest efforts of Liverpool-bound Lucas. As holidays go it was a pretty successful one for Riquelme, propelling the player back into the national squad after his post-World Cup retirement and helping his club to their sixth title. By the time Boca fanatic Diego Maradona stops bouncing up and down to celebrate this victory, Riquelme will be back at Villarreal via the Copa America after a successful $2.5 million loan.

Playing football 2,500 metres above sea level can be a shock to the system if you’re not used to it. But, argues Chris Taylor, FIFA’s ban on internationals is a victory for double standards and the major powers

You would think that FIFA’s medical department would have better things to do. Player burn-out, drug-taking, even dangerous play – all are areas where world football’s doctors might have something useful to chip in. Instead, they have provided the justification for FIFA’s executive committee to announce on May 27 that henceforward all international football above an altitude of 2,500 metres would be banned.

The hooligans of Buenos Aires don’t confine themselves to football, reports Martin Gambarotta. Though when they’re not busy hiring themselves out as political thugs, they cause plenty of disruption

Politics and football inevitably mix in Argentina and the product is not always good. Politics here means primordially one thing: the ruling Peronist party – a vast political machine. The latest crisis hitting football involves the usual: violence in derbies, allegations that hooligans (known here as barrabravas) turn up late at night to lecture players and speculation that the long reign of Julio Grondona as the head of the country’s FA is about to end. But it started with a massive fight not during a game, but in a political arena.

Robert Shaw finds Corinthians reeling after the loss of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano

Crisis at Corinthians is a relative term, but the upheaval at the São Paulo club this season has been staggering even by their standards. The MSI-driven transfer of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham triggered renewed difficulties and the hangover from a title win in 2005 has lasted all year. From being carefree, high-scoring table-toppers, the club are now scrambling to avoid relegation. In 2005 they scored 87 goals in 42 games; after 31 outings in this year’s national championship, they had netted only 28 times.

Robert Shaw tells us how in Brazil, increasing numbers of the country's star players are ploughing some of their riches back into community projects

Alongside top of the range sports cars and (something) every leading Brazilian footballer these days wants to have a pet social project. Jorginho, the right back in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning team, was already thinking of setting up an education schheme as he extended a playing career that had included spells with Flamengo, Bayern Leverkusen and Kashima Antlers. It eventually came to fruition when Bola pra Frente (Move the Ball Forward) was launched on June 29, 200 in his birthplace of Guadalupe in Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling northern suburbia, overlooked by the spartan block of flats where he grew up. “When we brought the site where Bola pra Frente is today it was an area overgrown with bushes, with horses and pigs running around, he says. “What makes me happy is to look at the same place now and see a very different picture: children playing sport, learning about citizenship and building a better future.”

Racism, just an unsavoury "circumstance of the game" in Argentina, writes Martin Gambaratta

All continental trophies are hotly contested. But the Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s most coveted piece of football silverware, is like no other because of this unsavoury fact: on-the-field violence can happen in practically any game. Police in riot gear often pour onto the pitch to stop a fight and many times make things worse by siding with the home team. So, if you happened to be watching São Paulo play hard-tackling Quilmes (a smallish club from impoverished Greater Buenos Aires) on April 13, the scrap just before half-time would not have looked like something extraordinary. Two Quilmes defenders scuffled with Grafite, São Paulo’s towering centre-forward. One of the Quilmes players and Grafite, who retaliated, were sent off.

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