Corinthians Chelsea-esque in Libertadores

Tight in defence and effective the few times they attacked, they upset the defending champions in the semi-finals by keeping a tight rein on the best player in the competition.

A few weeks ago, this was Chelsea as they eliminated Barcelona, shackling Lionel Messi before going on to beat Bayern Munich in the final and win the European Champions League.

Now it is the story of Corinthians in South America's Libertadores Cup ahead of the first leg of the final against six times winners Boca Juniors at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

Just as Chelsea upset the odds against Barcelona, so have Corinthians reached their first Libertadores final by halting fellow-Brazilians Santos and their ace Neymar, the best attacking side in the competition with 23 goals in 12 matches.

The strategy of closing up at the back and counter-attacking was the key to Corinthians' 1-0 away win over Santos in the first leg of their semi-final at Vila Belmiro.

A 1-1 draw in the return in Sao Paulo saw them through on a soggy pitch that hampered Santos more than it did Corinthians.

"The great teams don't always win, nor are the winners always great teams," wrote former Brazil striker Tostao, now a respected columnist for the daily folha de Sao Paulo.

"Chelsea, the European champions, and Corinthians, if they win the Libertadores, are not great teams. They are organised and efficient. They are short on talent," Tostao, a member of Brazil's great 1970 World Cup-winning team, added.

"In many stages of both games against Santos, Corinthians, who mark by pressing, played like Chelsea in the clashes with Barcelona and Bayern with eight players covering their box."

Corinthians do not plan to alter their style for the visit to Boca with forward Danilo saying on arrival in Buenos Aires on Monday: "We've got to play the same way. Our team have a way of playing both at home and away and we can't change against Boca."

TELLING NUMBERS

The comparison with Chelsea, though, does not go down well at Corinthians and especially with coach Tite.

But the numbers can not hide the fact that the team's strength lies in defence. In 12 matches they have conceded a mere three goals, only one at home.

"Corinthians don't play like Chelsea. Corinthians don't do anti-football," Tite told reporters after his team's quarter-final win over fellow Brazilians Vasco da Gama, 1-0 on aggregate with few goal chances.

"Corinthians don't stick their butts back there (in defence) and wait for a lucky goal."

Their 3-0 home win over Emelec of Ecuador in the last 16 after a 0-0 draw away in the first leg was Corinthians' only comfortable result in the knockout phase.

Corinthians, the only one of the four big Sao Paulo state clubs never to have won the Libertadores, will probably need more than to rely on a rare scoring chance if they are to win their first final.

Boca are in their 10th final and beat Brazilian sides in three of their four victories this century, all with the decisive second leg in Brazil.


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