5 Brazilian Stars to Watch in the Champions League Last 16
Thursday morning saw the draw for the last sixteen of the Champions League take place and fans Europe-wide are already rushing to ensure that flights and hotels are booked for their future adventures.
The Champions League is the pinnacle of the European game, but is also a competition that has been greatly enriched by the presence of talent procured from countries the world over.
Of those countries, Brazil has had more of an impact than most. In fact, it can sometimes be difficult to find a Champions League encounter that doesn't feature a star from the South American country.
While Europe's Brazilian ranks may lack the star power of the past, this year has been no exception to that rule and the competition has once more been heavily influenced by those born in the land of Samba and Caipirinhas.
So, let's take a look at five Brazilian stars who could come to the fore in the knockout rounds.
Dante (FC Bayern)
Bayern Munich's defensive record has been simply awesome this campaign, conceding just seven goals in 17 Bundesliga games with summer signing Dante yet to miss a single minute.
The 29-year-old came of age as a centre-back during a four year spell at divisional rivals Borussia Monchengladbach and, since his €4.7 million transfer last summer, has finally been acknowledged as one of Europe's best defenders.
Bayern reached the Champions League final last season, before suffering a disappointing penalty shootout defeat to Chelsea, but will once more be among the favourites this time around, with new signings Dante and Javi Martinez amongst their bolstered ranks.
Tall and strong, Dante has quickly formed a fine partnership with Germany international Holger Badstuber that will prove hard for Arsenal to break down—they will be offered fine protection from midfield.
Uncapped by his country, Dante will also be aware that a strong showing in the Champions League this season may be his last chance to earn a call-up with the 2014 World Cup on the horizon.
Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar Donetsk)
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Former Vasco youngster Alex Teixeira has played second fiddle to countrymen Willian and Fernandinho so far this Champions League campaign, but could well come to the fore in the latter stages.
Soon to turn 23, Teixeira has recently spoken of his ambitions to make the Brazil national team ahead of the World Cup and, after a free-scoring start to the 2012-13 season, his stock is now at career high levels.
Shakhtar has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with in European football with consistent performances over the past few seasons and Borussia Dortmund will know that they now face a difficult challenge in qualifying for the latter stages of the tournament.
From now on, the games will only increase in difficulty and goals will become an ever more important commodity. If Shakhtar are to progress beyond the Round of 16, they may require Teixeira to continue his impressive scoring feats.
The game with Dortmund will be quick and open, with both teams known for their speed in attack. Runners from midfield could well decide the game and, in Teixeira, Shakhtar have a cool customer in front of goal at their disposal.
Lucas Moura (PSG)
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São Paulo attacking midfielder Lucas Moura is yet to even arrive in European football, but could yet have an important impact on the outcome of this season's Champions League.
Fresh from success in the Copa Sudamerica, the second of South America's continental competitions, Lucas will touch down in France shortly to join a PSG side who are stuttering en-route to a widely expected Ligue 1 title.
The Parisiens are, however, safely through to the later stages of the competition and will now face Valencia in what must be considered a highly winnable Last 16 tie.
While not expected to emerge from the Champions League holding the trophy aloft, there can be little doubt that PSG's talented but unpredictable presence will worry some of Europe's established giants. Lucas' addition will only add to that threat.
The 20-year-old finished his São Paulo career in fine form and brimming with confidence. While his move to Ligue 1 will come with its own challenges, if he can maintain those performance levels, PSG may just find that everything comes together at just the right time.
Anderson (Manchester United)
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Few players divide Manchester United fans quite as much as Anderson, with those who hail his every move matched in number by those who are quick to point to a suggested lack of fitness.
Currently sidelined with a hamstring tear, the Brazilian has suffered rotten luck with injuries throughout his Manchester United career, but has also shown glimpses of offering the Red Devils the exact qualities they have so often lacked in midfield areas.
Strong, fast and direct, many of United's best performances this season have come with the former Grêmio man conducting proceedings from the tip of the midfield. His fitness may be lacking, but his talent has never been questioned.
For all their wealth of attacking options, for the Manchester side to stand any chance of competing for honours in Europe this season they will need to improve their control of the midfield area.
Against Real Madrid, this will be particularly important. The game should be open and exciting, but the English side cannot afford to let their opponents dictate proceedings. They must put Madrid on the back foot. Anderson may just be the key to doing so.
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While Valencia's league season may not be going to plan, they did manage to emerge from a potentially hazardous Champions League group to earn a place in the Last 16 and a tie with France's PSG.
Brazilian forward Jonas was crucial to their progression, scoring four times from his second striker role to see his side to important wins over Ligue 1 side Lille (twice) and Belarus's BATE Borisov.
Jonas arrived in Spain relatively cheaply after top-scoring for Grêmio in the 2010 Brasileirão season and has a reasonable scoring record in La Liga, but it has been in European competition where he has enjoyed his finest hours.
PSG may have the capability to shock the bigger sides in the tournament if everything comes together for them. However, it must also be said that they will not find life easy against a Valencia side beginning life under new manager Ernesto Valverde, should they continue to be so inconsistent in their performances.
Jonas and strike-partner Roberto Soldado simply must take their chances if Valencia is to progress, but it would be foolish to bet against the Brazil international doing just that, given his one in two goal record in European competition.