Copa Libertadores Draws Crowds with Captivating Storylines

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportFebruary 20, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 11:  Players of Botafogo celebrate a scored goal against San Lorenzo during a match between Botafogo and San Lorenzo as part of Copa Bridgestone Libertadores 2014 at Maracana Stadium on February 11, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The 2014 Copa Libertadores—South America's answer to the UEFA Champions League—is just a few games old but, from a Brazilian perspective, there are already two salient themes pulsing through the tournament that reflect its attraction and unpredictability.

Firstly, here in Rio de Janeiro, the displays of Botafogo in reaching the first round and subsequently getting off to a winning start in their group have caught the eye and given hope to fans after the critical loss of Dutch veteran Clarence Seedorf.

After finishing fourth in last year's Campeonato Brasileiro, the Alvinegro were forced to negotiate a preliminary qualifying round. They were given a tricky tie against Ecuadorian outfit Deportivo Quito, who play home ties 2,800 meters above sea level.

Botafogo lost the first leg in Ecuador 1-0 before massacring Quito 4-0 at the Maracana. The result ensured the club returned to South America's premier competition for the first time in 18 years.

Wallyson scored a hat-trick against Deportivo Quito to see Botafogo safely through to the group stage
Wallyson scored a hat-trick against Deportivo Quito to see Botafogo safely through to the group stageBuda Mendes/Getty Images

The most scintillating performance of the night came from new acquisition Wallyson, who helped himself to a hat-trick as the Rio club romped home.

And he followed that up with a delicious long-range drive in the side's group opener, a 2-0 win against San Lorenzo of Argentina, confirming the view that Botafogo's newest star has certainly been conceived, if not in fact born.

The Libertadores is made for nights such as that. Whilst the technical quality may not be on a par with its European cousin, the chance to spot a player who can make a difference is enticing.

Brazilian football blogger Eder Ramos de Oliveira described the Libertadores clash as “highly disputed. It is more to do with passion, desire and sheer will.”

Adriano is trying to resurrect his career with Atletico Paranaense and win his first Copa Libertadores title
Adriano is trying to resurrect his career with Atletico Paranaense and win his first Copa Libertadores titleGiuliano Gomes/Getty Images

The second story revolves around a much smaller club and a former legend of the world game. Atletico-PR also had to go through a preliminary game and only made it to the group stages by the skin of their teeth.

A last-minute goal forced their tie with Peru's Sporting Cristal to a penalty shoot-out, where the Paranaense club prevailed 5-4 on spot kicks.

But despite such a dramatic passage through to the group stages, headlines have been dominated by other news. The signing of former Internazionale and Brazil forward Adriano on a 10-month contract.

The 32-year-old came on for the final five minutes of Atletico's match with The Strongest of Bolivia last week, which ended in a 1-0 win for the Brazilians. He looks markedly slimmer than he has in some time and it is perhaps a positive that he is now playing at a club outside Rio, far away from the distractions that have blighted his career over the past few years.

Since winning the 2009 Campeonato Brasileiro with home-town club Flamengo, his career has been on a four-year downward trajectory. Before last week, Adriano had not partaken in an official match since March 2012, when playing for Corinthians.

His dream of representing Brazil at the World Cup was dashed many moons ago. But the forward who was once the most feared marksman on the planet can at least salvage something on the twilight of his career, starting with the challenge of lifting his first Copa Libertadores crown.

And winning the trophy is not the be all and end all. The competition is the chance for a player to put himself in the shop window.

Last year, Atletico Mineiro were crowned South American champions and promptly sold Bernard to Ukranian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk.

Those are the two paradoxes that are on offer on this continent. The youngsters on the South American production line waiting for their big break. Cruzeiro's Everton Ribeiro, Doria of Botafogo, perhaps even his team mate Wallyson, could all make a lucrative and professionally beneficial move on the back of a good Libertadores campaign.

And then there is the return of the journeyman, the quest for one final hurrah after a foreign sojourn. For Adriano, that journey has been more arduous than most.

But the challenge of the Libertadores remains as fresh for a returning veteran as it does for a sprightly youth bursting with potential. This tournament is not only what dreams are made of, it is where they are born.

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.