BUENOS AIRES - Brazil's Libertadores Cup hopes hang this year on a trio of Argentines making waves in the Brazilian championship and across the continent.
Argentina midfielder Andres D'Alessandro's influence in Internacional's second victory last year in the region's elite club competition earned him the vote as South America's Player of the Year.
Fluminense, finalists in 2008, won the Brazilian championship in December with Dario Conca dictating their game and earning Brazil's Player of the Year award.
The third of this trio of slightly-built, in a Lionel Messi mould, but hugely talented playmakers, Walter Montillo helped twice winners Cruzeiro qualify among six Brazilian teams.
Brazil's number was reduced by one last week when Ronaldo's Corinthians were upset by Colombia's Deportes Tolima in the preliminary round but one of the other five are favourites to win the trophy.
This could be down to having an Argentine playmaker, a remarkable fact in Brazil, although leading TV and radio commentator Luis Mendes has a logical explanation.
"We Brazilians have a tendency to copy the Europeans. The Argentines stick more strongly to their (footballing) culture, so they don't pass over those skilled players like Conca, D'Alessandro and Montillo," Mendes said.
"Brazilian clubs are not concerned about producing number 10s because they lean towards supplying the European market," he told Reuters.
"And there (in Europe) that number 10 type (of player) is not appreciated. In Europe you have the fast attacker out wide and a target man in the middle and midfielders who are strong, run all over the pitch, know how to mark and can join the attack.
"So, Brazilian teams are getting their number 10s in neighbouring countries, but Brazil will come around to producing our own again," he said.
"We already have some. (Paulo Henrique) Ganso of Santos is that type of player. He mixes a good feeling for building moves with a good pass."
The 21-year-old Ganso won his first Brazil cap in August but has since had surgery on damaged knee ligaments.
Santos, South American champions twice in the early 1960s in Pele's heyday, will be hoping to have Ganso fit some time in their Group Five campaign which begins on February 15 with a visit to Deportivo Tachira in Venezuela.
Fluminense are the first Brazilian team in action on Wednesday when they are at home in Rio de Janeiro to 1985 winners Argentinos Juniors of Argentina in Group Three.
Inter open their defence of the trophy in Group Six away to Ecuador's Emelec at the George Capwell stadium in the Pacific port city of Guayaquil a week later on February 16.
Cruzeiro's opener the same night is one of the stand-out matches of the group phase. They entertain Estudiantes in Group Seven in Belo Horizonte where the Argentine side beat them 2-1 in the 2009 final to lift their fourth crown.
Gremio, bitter city rivals to Inter in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and also looking for a third title, make their bow at home to Bolivia's Oriente Petrolero in Group Two on February 17.
Record seven-times winners Independiente and Velez Sarsfield, champions in 1994, also represent Argentina. But the absence of Boca Juniors, who won four of their six titles between 2000 and 2007, and twice-winners River Plate stands out like a sore thumb.comments