Copa Libertadores

Just as we start to settle into the new season in Europe, across the globe in Brazil the 2018 season approaches its conclusion. Each side has 10 games left to play in the Brasileirão and just four points separate the top five.

The league doesn’t get much coverage in most parts of Europe, but you don’t have to keep up with the latest to know how much of a big deal the title race is in Brazil. In Europe, most league’s have the big teams that dominate for long periods, but in Brazil it is much more unpredictable.

Palmeiras are the current leaders on goal difference, with Internacional matching their tally of 53 points. Sao Paolo, Gremio and Flamengo are also in the race. Internacional were relegated in 2016, before making a quick return to the top flight when they finished second in Serie B last season. Now they’re one of the favourites to win the Championship again.

But the league is not the big trophy that every player wants to win more than anything else. In South America, the Copa Libertadores is the most prestigious trophy for a footballer. Like the Champions League in Europe, it’s the one that the players dream about winning, but you could argue that it’s an even bigger deal in South America.

Deco said he would exchange his two Champions League medals that he won with Porto and Barcelona for a Libertadores success. All the fans in the tournament even sing “The Copa Libertadores is my obsession.” The atmospheres are fierce and the games are heated and unpredictable. A tiny club called Independiente Del Valle, who were in Ecudaurs third tier a decade ago, knocked out Argentinian giants Boca Juniors and River Plate to reach the final in 2016.

That’s because the biggest players from the continent are usually snapped up by Europe’s big clubs, which keeps the playing field a lot more level and makes it hard for clubs to have long periods of success. Another thing is the difference in conditions in different parts of South America. Some clubs play at high altitude and clubs have to travel thousands of miles to reach opponents’ stadiums. When they get there the atmosphere is crazy and it’s not uncommon to see riot police by the side of the pitch. The tension in the air can affect even the most experienced players.

But that’s the beauty of football in South America. 10 different teams have won the Copa Libertadores in the last 10 years and it has become one of the most competitive tournaments in the world of football.

The quarterfinal second-legs take place this week and a few of the teams fighting for the Brazilian title are still in the competition. Palmeiras face Chile’s Colo-Colo and Gremio play Argentinas Atletico Tucuman, while Cruzeiro, who are 7th in the league, try to overcome a two-goal deficit against Boca Juniors.

We all know what the biggest stars from Brazil have done throughout history, and we always see new stars coming through and building a bigger dream elsewhere. This will continue because the mentality of the Brazilian is to always be better and to challenge themselves.

I will always have a connection to Brazil because if you love football, you have to enjoy when a new Brazilian star pops up.

The passion that lives in South America is a level you might never experience somewhere else, and that’s why they are so good at handling pressure on the bog stage.

#mmlove