Category: South America



In this age of world football television coverage and instant internet connection, it’s unusual to have a team of unknown quantity at a major competition, but that’s exactly how Tahiti appear to many football fans looking forward to this month’s Confederations Cup in Brazil.

In fairness, it’s hardly surprising that few are familiar with either Tahiti or their players – this is the first time Toa Aito have qualified for a major tournament; they have never reached the World Cup finals, and last year’s Oceania Nations Cup victory – which earned Tahiti a place at the Confederations Cup – was the first time the country has come out on top in their region.

The turnaround in fortunes has been incredibly quick: historically an also-ran in the Oceania Confederation, as recently as 2007 Tahiti failed to even qualify for the Nations Cup, faring only marginally better than minnows Tuvalu and the Cook Islands in the qualification process. The team’s future looked bleak, and even the most optimistic of Tahitians would have ruled out any major success in the foreseeable future. Credit must be given to the Fédération Tahitienne de Football, who recognised the need for change and have managed an impressively rapid rate of improvement.

Tahiti celebrate an unlikely triumph at the 2012 Nations Cup

Their efforts culminated in the hiring of Eddy Etaeta, an ex-Tahiti international as a player, as the country’s new manager in 2010. Etaeta, only 43 himself, has successfully blooded a new generation of youngsters – over half of the squad for the Confederations Cup are aged 24 and under. Many of these fresh faces came from the national under-20 team, which had reached the U-20 World Cup for the first time in Tahiti’s history in 2009.

Inevitably, for a nation of around 250,000, Etaeta’s squad is bereft of the kind of big names that Tahiti’s Group B rivals Spain, Uruguay and Nigeria possess, but the coach has been able to make one quality addition to his almost exclusively locally-based group. AS Nancy striker Marama Vahirua, born in the Tahitian capital Papeete, has finally linked up with his compatriots, having spent most of his career in France. Vahirua is set to make his international debut at the unusually ripe age of 33, but his vast experience at Ligue 1 level should prove beneficial for a Tahiti squad lacking in knowledge of European playing styles.

His playing CV may be significantly more impressive than his team-mates’, but Etaeta insists there will be no favourable treatment in the dressing room: “We don’t have any key players. We have always put the spotlight on the bigger picture: the state of mind and being a group. For me, the star is the whole team.” Nevertheless, Vahirua looks like the side’s best bet for a goal at the finals.

A cursory glance at the remainder of Etaeta’s squad list returns the oddity of no fewer than four players with the same surname: brothers Alvin, Lorenzo  and Jonathan Tehau will all be competing for midfield places, while their cousin Teaonui has recently made the breakthrough to the senior side as a promising forward. Says Alvin, “I’m very proud to play in the national team with my family. We are a unit…I think it helps the team as a whole.”

Captain Nicholas Vallar also boasts professional experience, having spent three years at Montpellier; after spells at lower-league clubs in France and Portugal, the 29-year-old returned home in 2009 to play for AS Dragon, Tahiti’s current league champions. Striker Steevy Chong-Hue, of mixed Chinese-Tahitian heritage, similarly made the jump to Europe – joining Belgium’s BX Brussels, recently taken over by Vincent Kompany – before re-signing for AS Dragon.

Tahiti will play Spain at the Maracanã on 20 June – slightly more luxurious surroundings than their 10,000 capacity Stade Hamuta

With the 2012 Nations Cup final Tahiti’s last competitive fixture, Etaeta set up a game  in February of this year against Australian outfit Sydney FC, which the A-League franchise comfortably won 4-0. A more recent tour of Chile yielded wins over Universidad de Chile’s under-20 team and second tier Deportes Magallanes, but in their last warm-up game Tahiti were thrashed 7-0 by Chile’s under-20 side.

Results haven’t exactly been reassuring ahead of the country’s biggest test yet, then, and even the two victories are of doubtful use: the gulf in class between the Chilean second division and world champions Spain is wider than Etaeta’s grin will be if Tahiti pull off an upset or two later this month. However, the Fédération Tahitienne de Football have defended the decision to play low-key opposition, citing the need to “build confidence for the future”. Etaeta concurs: “We’re not in denial – we know 8-10 weeks of professional training isn’t going to make up for the 10 years of professionalism that separates us from Spain or Uruguay.”

However, the mild confidence-building of those wins will surely have been ruined by the 7-0 hammering which followed. Etaeta will have a huge job on his hands if he is to convince his players they are capable of taking on Xavi, Iniesta and co, and the flight to Brazil the day after the under-20 defeat was no doubt in more sombre spirits than is healthy given the size of the task ahead.

And the team’s spirit will have been further damaged by Tahiti’s disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign which ended in elimination in March – with Toa Aito having just one win and two goals to their name after six games. Upsets in Brazil, then, are unlikely, but at least Etaeta is realistic in his targets for the upcoming tournament: “to not concede any goals in a half would be impressive in itself. But above all, to score a goal would be a huge achievement.” That seems reasonable, and you have to hope the minnows have a Hollywood ending to a story no-one could have dreamt up a year ago.

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Brazilian side Botafogo have completed the signing of Uruguayan wonderkid Nicolás Lodeiro from Ajax for an undisclosed fee. The deal was confirmed on Botafogo’s official website on Friday, and Lodeiro will link up with his new team-mates after the Olympic Games.

Making his debut for Uruguayan giants Nacional aged just 18, Lodeiro enjoyed national honours in his second season in senior football as Nacional won the Primera División in 2008-09. Although still a teenager, Lodeiro played in 25 of Nacional’s 32 league fixtures that season, earning rave reviews and showing maturity beyond his years.

A 2011 Copa América winner, Lodeiro has a fine international pedigree

After helping his side reach the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores in 2009, Lodeiro began to attract interest from a number of European clubs and few were surprised when the midfielder left for Dutch giants Ajax in January 2010. Although linking up with compatriots Luis Suarez  – who had recommended Nicolás to Ajax boss Martin Jol – and Bruno Silva somewhat softened the blow of having to leave his home continent, Lodeiro predictably struggled to make an immediate impact at Ajax, only making ten appearances in all competitions.

Included in Uruguay’s 2010 World Cup squad, Lodeiro did little to boost his chances of first-team football at the Amsterdam Arena by first becoming the tournament’s first player to be sent off, and then picking up an injury that kept him out for the entire 2010-11 campaign.

To his credit, Lodeiro recovered to make 12 Eredivisie appearances for Ajax last season, scoring his first league goals for the club and also netting against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late to save his Ajax career, and the Dutch giants have allowed Lodeiro to leave as they prepare to defend their league title in 2012-13.

Five years ago, Lodeiro’s decision to leave Europe for the Brazilian top-flight would have been viewed as a huge step backwards, but the league has markedly improved in recent years as national heroes return home to end their careers and Brazil’s youngsters now choose to bide their time at home rather than rushing into an ill-advised move to Europe.

In joining Botafogo – currently just one point shy of fourth place and a Copa Libertadores berth – Lodeiro follows in the footsteps of Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who left Europe for The Lone Star at the start of the month. The fanfare surrounding the former AC Milan and Real Madrid schemer, who still dominates Botafogo’s official website over 20 days after joining, will take some of the pressure off Lodeiro.

At the age of 23, Lodeiro has played just 81 games at club level – Seedorf has made over 800 appearances. Named as Man of the Match in just his second senior appearance for Uruguay, Lodeiro clearly has talent, and moving back to South America can help him settle and rediscover the form that led him to Europe in the first place. He needs more first-team football, and Lodeiro is more likely to play regularly at Botafogo than Ajax.

A statement on Botafogo’s official website said: “Botafogo closed on Thursday the signing of Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro, 23. The player, who signed for four years with the club, is meeting with the Uruguayan team in preparation for the Olympics in London, and [will] submit to Botafogo after the competition.”

Image: http://fifacats.blogspot.co.uk


Porto have confirmed the signing of Colombian forward Jackson Martínez on a four-year deal, after paying Mexican side Jaguares £7 million for the frontman’s services.

Martínez joins the Portuguese champions following three goal-laden seasons at Chiapas-based Jaguares, even captaining the side in 2012 despite still only being 25-years-old. Having began his career in his home country with Independiente Medellín in 2004, Martínez impressed sufficiently to earn a move to Mexico in 2010, making his international bow for Colombia the year before.

4 goals in just 9 games in his first season in senior football, aged 18, showed Martínez’s potential, and although his strike rate dropped to a goal every four games in the following four campaigns, the forward netted an incredible 20 times in 25 games in 2009 to secure a move to Jaguares.

Martínez’s international and domestic success has led to bigger and better things

He maintained his strike rate in Mexico’s top flight, with his 28 goals in 58 fixtures for Jaguares – only founded in 2002 – making him the club’s second-top goalscorer of all time. Described by BBC South American football correspondent Tim Vickery as “an out-and-out goalscorer, a front-to-goal centre-forward who can finish off both feet, and with excellent spring that makes him a threat in the air”, Martínez boasts a frightening combination of speed and aerial ability – he is 6 feet tall – that makes him a real handful for opposition defences.

Although Porto are taking something of a gamble by investing in a forward that has never played European football before, they were not the only club chasing Martínez’s signature: Premier League giants Liverpool had been interested in the forward since March, with Martínez also thought to be on the radar of fellow English top-flight sides Fulham, Everton, Sunderland and Wigan.

However, Porto acted quickly, and were aided by the lack of a language barrier facing Martínez in Portugal compared to England. Jackson will join fellow Colombian James Rodríguez at the club, with Porto’s squad containing a total of 15 South Americans, including the side’s Brazilian captain Hulk.

Martínez’s lack of European experience – combined with the quality of the other attackers on Porto’s books – means that he may not start the 2012-13 Primeira Liga campaign in the club’s starting XI: competition for places is fierce, and Martínez is likely to be behind the aforementioned Hulk as well as Portugal international Silvestre Varela and experienced Austrian forward Marc Janko in Porto’s pecking order.

Although Jackson’s nationality and style of play have drawn comparisons with compatriot Falcao, Martínez has publicly disagreedwith the likening, saying “I hope people will not compare me with Falcao. I am a different type of player, but I promise that I will battle to get goals.”

Porto will certainly hope so – the club sold Falcao for £32 million last season, and, hoping to similarly profit should Martínez prove to be just as successful, the Northern giants have inserted a £31.7 million buy-out clause into their new player’s contract. A poor start in the Premier League next season and Liverpool may be left kicking themselves at what might have been.

Image: http://www.luuux.com

 


Uruguay forward Diego Forlan has joined Brazilian side Internacional after his Inter Milan contract was terminated yesterday. Forlan had moved to Italy from Atletico Madrid in 2011.

Something of a flop at Manchester United – his first European club – having cost the Red Devils over £500,000 per league goal at £6.9 million, Forlan has rebuilt his career in recent years, enjoying much more prolific spells at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid after leaving Old Trafford in 2004, as well as winning the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup.

Forlan’s move to Milan never quite worked out for either party

Having managed a much-improved strike-rate of around a goal every other league game at each of his Spanish clubs, it was only a matter of time before a European giant such as Inter came calling. Unfortunately, after signing at the San Siro in August 2011, Forlan struggled to emulate this record. Just two league goals all season led to the club tearing up the last year of the Uruguayan’s contract, making him eligible for a free transfer.

Signed as a replacement for Inter legend and Anzi Makhachkala-bound Samuel Eto’o – who had scored 37 times in all competitions in 2010-11 – Forlan was always likely to feel the pressure at a historically expectant club. Despite scoring on his debut in September against Palermo, Diego would find the net just once more in Serie A, having to wait until March for his next – and last – league goal for Inter, against Catania.

A move to Porto Alegre-based Internacional, who finished fifth in Brazil’s top flight last season, represents a chance to move back to his home continent for Forlan. His illustrious career has come the full circle: Forlan’s first club was Argentine giants Independiente; Brazil’s Internacional could well be his last.

The signing is likely to benefit both parties, with Forlan able to escape his Inter nightmare while winding down his career closer to home, while Internacional will likely bask in  increased shirt and ticket sales after the unveiling of Uruguay’s all-time top scorer. Indeed, a club statement read “Diego Forlan is the new reinforcement of Internacional. The Uruguay player is in Milan and will arrive in Porto Alegre on Saturday. The player will be unveiled tomorrow.”, while Forlan himself had earlier this week admitted he was “excited” by speculation linking him with a move to Brazil.

The world’s most casual unveiling? Forlan wears his new shirt

Although Forlan will undoubtedly be the crown jewel in Internacional’s squad – which is entirely comprised of South Americans – he is not the club’s first player to have proved himself in Europe and at international level: Internacional alumni include AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato, World Cup-winning midfielder Dunga, Juventus new-boy Lúcio and Villarreal forward Nilmar.

Forlan becomes the second foreign superstar in the space of two weeks to move to the Brazilian top-flight, following Holland legend Clarence Seedorf’s transfer to Botafogo on 30 June. The pair, who have both won over 80 caps for their country, will join fellow footballing celebrities Ronaldinho, Neymar, Deco and Luis Fabiano in the 2012-13 Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, a league that is growing in stature and appeal to European fans with every marquee signing.

 

Images: Forlan at Inter Milan – http://www.nuevaeradeportiva.com/; Forlan in Internacional shirt – http://www.sambafoot.com


Veteran Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf has joined mid-table Brazilian Serie A side Botafogo in a deal that could make him the country’s best-paid foreigner.

Seedorf said an emotional goodbye to AC Milan – where he had spent half of his professional career – in May, after revealing that the league clash with Novara would be his last game for the Rossoneri. He officially departed the San Siro on 21 June and said: “I am leaving after 10 wonderful years…I leave a family”, while club CEO Adriano Galliani gushed “When Milan played well…each and every time it occured, Seedorf played an amazing match. He is a world class player.”

Botafogo will hope Seedorf’s experience and trophy haul can help his new team-mates

The Suriname-born schemer leaves Serie A following a trophy-laden spell in Italy which saw him lift two Champions League cups, two league titles and the FIFA Club World Cup with Milan, as well as reaching the final of the Coppa Italia with Inter in 2000. Having also enjoyed top-flight football in Holland, with Ajax, and won La Liga with Real Madrid, Seedorf joins Botafogo with a wealth of experience in the upper echelons of club football.

The 36-year-old has signed a two year deal with The Lone Star, and is expected to see out the remainder of his career at the 46,000-capacity Estadio Olimpico. A Botafogo club statement claimed the deal is “the biggest contract for a foreigner made by a Brazilian football club”.

Although Seedorf will clearly be the jewel in the crown of Botafogo’s modest squad – midfielder Renato (ex-Sevilla, with 28 caps for Brazil) and Uruguayan forward Sebastian Abreu (formerly of Deportivo and River Plate) are the club’s next-biggest stars – the Dutchman is not the first world-class player to have donned the side’s black-and-white strip. Botafogo alumni include legendary Brazilian wingers Garrincha and Jairzinho, three-time World Cup-winning coach Mario Zagallo (who had five separate spells in the Botafogo hotseat) and midfielder Didi, who has two World Cups to his name.

Seedorf’s impact on Botafogo’s success will stretch further than his performances on the field

Fully aware of Seedorf’s status in the game, Botafogo have already changed their website to have the Dutchman modelling a club shirt as the only image on the home page, with the caption “SEEDORF GLORIOSO”, while thousands of messages from fans with the slogan “Seedorf no Fogao” (“Seedorf the fire”) flooded social networking site Twitter.

The player’s fame is expected to lead to high shirt sales and will boost the club’s marketing prospects – just as the return of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho to Brazil in recent years saw huge advertising contracts and image rights. Expect plenty of stylish shots such as the one on the right.

The club will undoubtedly look to use the 87-cap Holland international to help advertise Botafogo to European audiences, enhancing the side’s reputation and attracting more supporters from abroad. Seedorf, who speaks Portuguese and is married to a Brazilian woman, also has the ability to communicate in his team-mates’ native tongue, an important factor that may save the dressing room from the sometimes morale-lowering impact of a marquee signing for the rest of the squad.

Clarence will join fellow 21st-century footballing icons Ronaldinho, Deco, Luis Fabiano and Neymar in the Brazilian top-flight, demonstrating a trend of up-and-coming superstars and veteran legends having greater faith in a league that has grown in appeal and stature in recent years.

Images: Seedorf at AC Milan – http://www.graphicshunt.com; “Seedorf Glorioso”, Botafogo – http://www.botafogo.com.br/


Founded on 25 January 1930, São Paulo has grown to become one of the giants of both Brazilian and South American football. The side is one of only five clubs never to have been relegated from the national top flight.

The badge's colours symbolize both the state flag and the three races of Brazil's previous inhabitants: Native Americans (Red), Europeans (White), and Africans (Black).

The first of six Série A title was secured in 1977, but São Paulo have often endured long waits between trophies, with a nine year delay until their second league success in 1986. 2005 was a brilliant campaign for the club in all other competitions – they won the FIFA Club World Cup, Copa Libertadores and Campeonato Paulista – but Série A dominance was hard to come by. However, a first league title for 15 years in 2006 sparked a trophy glut – the club went on to successfully defend their title in 2007 and again topped the league in 2008. 

In the last five years, on the other hand, the club has struggled to emulate this form. 2011 saw the Tricolor Paulista struggle to a sixth-placed finish in a season that saw them sack two managers, with the second of these, Adilson Batista, lasting just three months. At least it was an improvement on the previous season: mid-table mediocrity in 2010 followed a respectable third-placed finish in 2009. Similarities could be drawn with Liverpool – both have slumped in recent years with the emergence of richer and better-equipped clubs.

However, São Paulo’s squad still contains some famous veterans and emerging talent. Their most famous current squad member is Luis Fabiano, the former Porto and Sevilla forward, who has a record of a goal every 1.5 games at international level for Brazil. Other familiar names include Denilson, who has returned to the club on loan from Arsenal, and one of Brazil’s brightest young stars, Lucas. The 19-year-old has already won 11 senior caps for his country and was named on FIFA’s list of “Players to Watch” in 2011. 

Captain Rogério Ceni will go down in history as the first goalkeeper to reach 100 goals in their career – a phenomenal milestone achieved through being his club’s regular penalty and free-kick taker since becoming first-choice goalkeeper in 1997. São Paulo’s squad is admirably focused on Brazilians – the only two foreigners in the side are full-back Ivan Piris, from Paraguay, and Argentinean midfielder Marcelo Cañete. 

Midfielder Lucas has attracted the interest of AC Milan, Manchester United and Real Madrid

The club plays its home games at the Estadio do Morumbi, which was built in 1960 and most recently renovated in 2009. The capacity of 67,428 makes the ground the forty-second largest in the world and the fourth-biggest in Brazil. With an original capacity of 120,000, the stadium’s record attendance is a staggering 146,082 in 1977 – twice Old Trafford’s maximum.

São Paulo may have slid from national and international prominence in recent years, but with talent such as Lucas on the club’s books, the future looks bright for Émerson Leão’s men. Considering this is the former Brazil goalkeeper’s twenty-eighth managerial stint, his experience could be key in engineering an upturn in fortunes for the country’s sleeping giants.