Club: LDU Quito
In physical terms Guerron is a beast,” says Bruno Militano, LDU Quito’s physical preparation specialist. “In terms of velocity he’s the quickest, he jumps the highest and he’s aerobically strong.” And the 23-year-old used such attributes, as well as his considerable skill, to become the most decisive player in this year’s Libertadores Cup. Spanish club Getafe were quick to snap him up.
Guerron’s rise has a great deal to do with a positional change. He was a promising striker but the switch to wide right brought out the best in him. With more space to work in, the Ecuadorean’s physical virtues were all the more apparent. He earned the nickname Dynamite after exploding his way through defence after defence.
Guerron, whose brother Raul is a former Ecuador left-back, scored only three goals during the Libertadores campaign, a statistic that shows he needs to improve his precision. But he set up a stream of chances for his team-mates and was a driving force in the Final from beginning to end.
The scorer of the first hat-trick in a Libertadores Final still ended up on the losing side – and his missed penalty in the shoot-out was a key moment in that defeat. It is a dramatic introduction to the two sides of Thiago Neves, an attacking midfielder of undoubted quality who carries with him the risk of instability.
Neves’ left foot is a wonderfully precise weapon – he strikes the ball extremely well and in addition to his seven goals in the campaign set up others with wickedly curled free-kicks. But there are reports of a wayward off-field life and a troubled family background – his father complained to the media that his son was not giving him enough assistance.
Last year Neves renewed his contract with Fluminense having, shortly before, signed a pre-contract with Palmeiras. It will be fascinating to see if his talent can keep shining through the confusion.
As Flamengo of Rio prepared to face America in the first knockout round, the Brazilian press treated the Mexican side’s overweight Paraguayan striker as a laughing stock. It was most unwise. Perhaps they had forgotten that Ferenc Puskas and Gerd Muller were hardly sylph-like. Certainly they had overlooked the fact that Cabanas was last year’s Libertadores top scorer.
He repeated the feat this year (jointly with Marcelo Martins Moreno of Cruzeiro) and, on the way, masterminded the elimination of Flamengo then Santos in the quarter-finals. Cabanas showed he really had it in for Brazilians by scoring against the national team in the World Cup qualifiers.
Cabanas left Paraguay as a midfielder but evolved into a striker in Chile, with Audax Italiano, before moving on to Mexico (where his first club was Jaguares). With his low centre of gravity, excellent turn and quick, powerful shooting, he has established himself as one of the most dangerous goalscorers in Latin America. Is it too late for Europe?
Club: Sao Paulo
The troubled star’s loan period at Sao Paulo from Internazionale was an unqualified success. Adriano arrived mired in personal problems and left with a smile on his face, recalled by Brazil and looking forward to the European season.
Sao Paulo’s quarter-final elimination was hardly his fault. His headed goal in the second leg left Fluminense needing three goals in 20 minutes, and he was helpless as his defence proceeded to collapse. Had Sao Paulo made more of the advantage Adriano had given them in the first leg – when he scored the only goal – they would have been home and dry. He was immense, a one-man attack, dropping deep to set up the play, powering defenders off the ball and finishing with his old venom. Indeed, he hit six of Sao Paulo’s 10 goals during the tournament.
Adriano was grateful for the chance he had been given, saying: “Everything I achieve in football from now on, Sao Paulo are part of it.”
Club: River Plate
The most lethal weapon of the Libertadores were the curled free-kicks from the right flank by River Plate’s left-footed midfielder. The delivery was perfect, the ball bending in and inviting the team’s big guns to attack it. In the group game away to America of Mexico, River scored three goals from this route.
Abelairas, typically a substitute last year, was promoted to the starting line-up in 2008. Though he can play wide left, he is being used more frequently in central midfield, which despite his slight build suits his all-round abilities better. Marking is not his speciality but in possession he takes responsibility, passes well and is a silky runner with the ball.
Abelairas has been one of the success stories of Diego Simeone’s spell as River coach. He has already attracted interest from Europe, and was the leading name in a controversial deal whereby the Buenos Aires club sold 50 per cent of a package of players to Spanish League runners-up Villarreal.
In the opening game of the group phase, the Caracas midfielder lit up the night with a scintillating burst followed by a snap shot from range with his left foot – not his strongest – that beat the San Lorenzo keeper.
Caracas failed to make it out of a difficult group, but Vargas emerged as a symbol of the renovation of Venezuelan football – and also showed that he still has some growing up to do. A needless red card meant that he missed the important visit to Cruzeiro. “Sometimes I can’t control myself,” he said, “and I know that I need to correct this deficiency.”
His Libertadores form won him a move to Club Brugge and a place in the national team – Vargas celebrated with a glorious goal in a friendly against Brazil and a well-taken one in a World Cup qualifier away to Uruguay. After the latter, which made it 1-1, Venezuela coach Cesar Farias was quick to substitute Vargas. “His quality is beyond doubt,” Farias said, “but he could have complicated things for us by abusing his ability.” That move across the Atlantic might be coming too soon.
By Tim Vickery