TWO months short of his 37th birthday and with a record 40 titles on his CV, Daniel Alves had never played a game in the Copa Libertadores until he got a harsh baptism of fire last Thursday.
Last year, after over a decade and a half in Europe, Brazil’s captain went back home and joined Sao Paulo, who kicked off their Libertadores campaign away to Peruvian champions Binacional, a club founded just over ten years ago who were also playing their first game in the competition.
Binacional are based in the country’s southern highlands. They play their home games at Juliaca, a staggering 3,800 metres above sea level.
This makes life very hard for unacclimatised visitors. There is less oxygen in the rarified air. The away side find it impossible to play their normal game.
They are gasping for breath and unable to cover as much ground, and the effects really kick in during the second half.
ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK
Sao Paulo went with a very attacking line up. They played three up front, including former Chelsea striker Alexandre Pato, plus Daniel Alves and another attacking midfielder in a midfield trio – Alves remains Brazil’s right back, but is playing his club football further forward in a free role.
The team selection was a risk. It could have paid off. Sao Paulo are by far the better team, took the lead and could have killed the game off before half time.
But after the break it was a different matter. By the end Binacional were probably worth their 2-1 triumph.
The Libertadores adventure of Daniel Alves, then, has got off to a tricky start.
Of the four teams in the group, Binacional are the only club not to have won the trophy.
Sao Paulo have three titles. Last year’s beaten finalists River Plate of Argentina have four. And Liga of Quito became the only side from Ecuador to lift the trophy in 2008.
Their side, including former Manchester United captain Antonio Valencia, come to Sao Paulo on Wednesday. It is a vital game.
The return match will take place at the dreaded altitude – 1,000 metres further down the Andes than Juliaca, but high enough to be a discomfort.
Liga are certainly strong in front of their own fans. The 2008 triumph was based on excellent home form, and last week they beat River Plate – who admittedly sent a reserve side – by the thumping margin of 3-0.
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Any result other than a win would leave Sao Paulo off the pace with, on paper, the three toughest group games ahead of them – the trip to Quito and the two meetings with River Plate.
It is a game, then, when the experienced players need to step up. Sao Paulo have a special relationship with the Libertadores after some glamorous triumphs in the early 90s.
The crowd will come along in numbers, but they will be very demanding, and quick to turn on their team if things go wrong – much more volatile than supporters that Daniel Alves delighted for so many years on the other side of the Atlantic.
This post written by Jon Boon originally appeared on Football news - transfers, fixtures, scores, pictures | The Sun. Read the full post here.