This week was the 2nd Champions League week and it seems a good time to look at this year’s competition in more depth. It is the most sought after prize in club football and each year it welcomes new teams from across Europe and players from all over the globe. Today we look at the best South Americans in this season’s competition. South American means they hail from one of the CONMEBOL nations (no Javier Hernandez or Rafa Marquez) and I’ve only included players who have made an appearance in the group stages so far.
10. Michel Bastos (Brazil, Lyon)
One of many Brazilian full-backs come wingers to have crossed the Atlantic, Michel Bastos has a rocket attached to this left leg and demonstrated as much with his two goals this week for French side Lyon (playing left-wing). At 27 he has experience and he has the attacking flair to cause problems and will be looking to help Lyon qualify for the knock out stages. He was an ever-present at the World Cup for Brazil (playing left-back) proving his importance at both club and national level.
9. Javier Mascherano (Argentina, Barcelona)
The captain of the Argentine national side under Diego Maradona, he missed out on the 2007 Champions League trophy, playing in the final for Liverpool against AC Milan. Now at Barça, his tenacity and ball-winning expertise perfectly complements the artistry in front of him, namely Xavi, Iniesta and compatriot Messi. At 26 years old he is entering his prime and what better than to be coached by one of the great central midfielders in Pep Guardiola. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his paws on the trophy this time round.
8. Óscar Cardozo (Paraguay, Benfica)
Last season Tacuara (closest translation the beanpole) dominated the Portuguese Liga, scoring 26 goals in 29 games and guiding Benfica to the league title. In the Europa League he found his feet, finishing joint top scorer with nine goals, ahead of South American compatriot Diego Forlán and it included 3 goals over 2 legs against Liverpool in the Quarter Finals. In the 2007/08 Champions League he scored three goals as Benfica crashed out in the groups, he already has one this year; to seal victory against Hapoel Tel Aviv. His strength in the air and his physical presence in and around the penalty area will keep Europe’s top defenders on their toes.
7. Maicon (Brazil, Inter Milan)
Inter Milan have a habit of importing great South American full backs (see previous blog) and in Maicon they have a world beater. He is fearsomely athletic, as creative offensively as he is solid defensively. He has already been used in both games this season and was pivotal in last year’s successful campaign. He is also a regular in the Brazil squad edging out Dani Alves (but he is probably more proud that he has edged Dani out of this list as well).
6. Alexandre Pato (Brazil, AC Milan)
Injured last season which meant he missed out on the World Cup, the Brazilian has recovered and it didn’t take him long to find his scoring touch. He put two past Lecce ‘keeper Petrachi in Milan’s Serie A opener. He has only played 55 mins in this season’s Champions League but if he stays injury free it could be his defining season supporting Ibrahimovic and linking with the “inhos” Rob and Ronald.
5. Luis Suárez (Uruguay, Ajax)
The most hated man in Ghana Africa should not just be remembered for that handball. He is an excellent striker and formed a lethal partnership with Forlán in South Africa. At Ajax he is pivotal, captaining the side in their most recent Champions League match and setting up their only goal. In the preliminary rounds he managed 3 goals in 4 games. Domestically he is on fire, 6 goals in 7 matches for in the Eredivisie, that puts him on 41 in 40 matches when taking into account last season. Like I say, there is more to Suárez than that handball.
4. Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina, Real Madrid)
For a player who often drifts out of the game he has only one way of proving his worth, and that is by scoring goals. Higuaín is invaluable, recording 48 goals in his last two league seasons. His no-nonsense style may be out-of-place with the Galático culture and a contrast to his wingers Ronaldo and Di María but that works perfectly for a certain Portuguese manager. He led the line in their Champions League opener against Ajax and after being quiet for much of the game guess what? He scored in the 78th minute.
3. Ángel Di María (Argentina, Real Madrid)
At Benfica he dazzled on the wing and it is no small reason that Cardozo (see above) plundered so many goals while El Fideo (The Noodle) was in the side. Now at Real Madrid he is forming part of the attacking trio with Higuaín and Cristiano Ronaldo. His late winner for Los Merengues this week is a perfect example of his talent and eye for goal. With José Mourinho at the helm there is a strong chance Madrid will go far and Di María will play a key role in that.
2. Diego Milito (Argentina, Inter Milan)
Man of the Match in last year’s final for this two goals, Player of the Tournament for his contribution over the season. This is a man who somehow found himself on the bench during the World Cup. It isn’t inexplicable – the coach was Diego Maradona. He his a powerful striker but his second goal in last year’s final showed he has deft touches as well. Most importantly for any striker he has scored goals wherever he has been. This season he finds himself on the frontline again with Samuel Eto’o and he finds himself on this list leaving his club mates Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Luico, Walter Samuel and Julio Cesar behind.
1. Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona)
The best player in the world, therefore the best player in the Champions League 2010/11 therefore in the number 1 spot in this week’s Top Ten. Just to remind you all why, if you didn’t need reminding. Top scorer in the Champions League in 2008/09 and 2009/10 including these four against Arsenal to knock them out. He already has two this season and expect the goals to flow and jaws to drop as the campaign progresses.
Tuesday sees us turn to the net – the goalkeeper’s that is – as we look at 10 of the best goalscoring goalkeepers!