Boca Juniors or Corinthians --Regardless who winds up as Copa Libertadores champion, they don't have the flair of Santos.
Boca Juniors (Argentina) and Corinthians (Brazil), who start their two-leg, aggregate-goal series at the latter's stadium on Wednesday night (Fox Deportes, 8:30 p.m. ET), play a much more pragmatic and defensive style.
Considering Manchester City's Carlos Tévez, a man known for scoring and creating goals starred for both teams only a few years ago, it is quite ironic. But playing close to the vest seems to be the road to success for the two major continental championships, at least this year. Chelsea, which captured the UEFA Champions League crown against all odds while using a defensive posture in the semifinals and final at Bayern Munich, set the tone over the past two months.
Now it's South America's turn with its own championship.
As it turns out, both clubs can reach certain milestones with a triumph.
A win would boost Boca to its seventh Copa title, tying Argentine rival Independiente as the most successful team in the competition's history. Boca is aiming for its fifth Copa title in the past dozen years, which would be quite an accomplishment.
A victory would give Corinthians its first major South American crown, believe it or not, which would be quite an achievement for the Brazilian side. Corinthians, which has won five Brazilian national titles, overcame Santos and the great Neymar in the semifinals, winning on 2-1 aggregate, including a 1-0 away triumph and a 1-1 home draw, thanks to a goal by Danilo.
The brass ring is a trip to Japan at the FIFA Club World Cup in December (where Barcelona defeated Santos for the championship last year).
The Brazilians, however, might not be the only hungry team on Wednesday.
Boca, which had an opportunity to secure the Argentine Clausura tournament this past weekend, lost and wound up in third place as coach Julio César Falcioni used primarily a second-string lineup because he wanted to rest regulars for Copa. Tite also rested many of his key players, but Corinthains managed its first victory in the Brazilian league in six matches as it climbed out of the cellar in the 20-team league.
Playing at the Bombonera in Wednesday's opener, Boca finds itself with a distinct advantage, The Argentine side has lost only once there this year -- falling to Fluminense (Brazil) in the group play, 2-1. However, Boca bounced back with a 2-0 win in Rio de Janeiro. Boca has won five consecutive home games.
For visiting teams, Bombonera is not a fun place to play because the opposition normally feels the sting of the Argentine club's loud and more vociferous supporters.
“The Bombonera [factor] is real, it exists,” Corinthians coach Tite was quoted by The Associated Press. “You need to be mature to play there. We need to have the mental strength to do it.”
Corinthians will get its chance for some home cooking in the return leg in São Paolo on July 4.
Through the years, Brazilian soccer has been most associated with an attacking style. But the key Corinthians player happens to be a defensive midfielder --28-year-old Raif, who has helped the team surrender only 36 goals in 38 matches this season.
Boca, on the other hand, is led by an old hand and veteran international midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme. The 34-year-old Riquelme, a traditional No. 10, pulls the team's strings. He has played in one World Cup and captained Argentina to the 2008 Olympic gold medal as an overage player. Moreover, he still has plenty of life left in his legs and head as he set up Santiago Silva's game-winner in Boca's second-leg quarterfinal victory over Fluminense in the quarterfinals.
If you go by history, Boca Juniors will get a slight edge as the Argentine side holds 2-0-2 lead in its confrontations with Corinthians, in the 1991 Libertadores tournament and in the Mercosur competition.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.