Football

Copa Libertadores: Five star players to watch

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No Neymar this year - Santos didn't qualify - but there's still plenty of talent to keep your eye on during the Copa Libertadores 2013.

The South American equilivent of the Champions League kicks off today, and while most of the big names hail from Brazil, there's enough talent spread out across the continent to keep even the casual football fan entertained.

Clausura champions Arsenal were surprise league winners in Argentina last year, and have a shot at a first ever Copa Libertadores title this term.

Newell's Old Boys and Boca Juniors are also set to compete, while The Strongest - from Bolivia - will hope to live up to their name this time around.

Universidad de Chile will be without Angelo Henriquez - the 18-year-old moved to Manchester United last year - but they'll pose the biggest threat from east of the Andes.

Penarol, past winners from 2011, qualified behind Uruguayan league winners Nacional, and both should be tough opponents this year. Each side boasts an experienced Uruguayan international - 34-year-old Marcelo Zalayeta for Penarol and 36-year-old Sebastian Abreu for Nacional.

Still, most the marquee names belong to the Brazilian clubs - the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato, Bernard of Corinthians and Lucio and Ganso of Sao Paulo.

So, here are five reasons why you should watch this year's tournament… 

Ronaldinho - Atletico Mineiro

The former-Barcelona playmaker still draws the crowds, and Atletico Mineiro will be counting on a little bit of magic from the Brazilian number 10 this year.

Ronaldinho helped Aletico Mineiro to a State Championship trophy last term - the club went the entire state season unbeaten - and Ronaldinho's reemergence played a huge role in their success.

While the burst of pace has slowed, the touch, technique and quality remains. Any match involving Ronaldinho is a must watch.

Alexandre Pato - Corinthians

The Brazil to Europe trend is a well established transfer pathway, but in recent seasons, more and more established Brazilian stars have opted for the reverse, quitting Europe for South America.

The latest, Alexandre Pato, was tipped to be the 'next big thing' when he signed for AC Milan as a skinny teenager back in 2007.

Injuries acted as a brake on his career, and the feeling that potential remains unfulfilled clings to Pato, but there's no doubting his ability.

Back in Brazil, he has signed for Corinthians, and if he can stay off the treatment table, he'll be one to watch during the tournament. 

Paulinho - Corinthians

Strongly linked with a move to Europe, Paulinho has so far opted to stay with the current champions Corinthians. Last year's winners underlined their staying power with a FIFA World Club Cup title late last year, beating European champions Chelsea 1-0 in the final.

A tough tackling midfielder with an eye for goal, the 24-year-old broke into the Brazil set-up in 2011, the same year he won the Campeonato Brasileiro with his club.

The addition of Pato strengthens the defending champions, giving them yet another weapon as they look to become the first team to defend the title since Boca Juniors in 2001.

Sebastian Abreu - Nacional

The Uruguay international spearheads the Nacional attack, and the Primera Division champions will be looking to the 6ft 4in striker to lead the line, and score the goals to fire them into the competition's latter rounds.

The experienced forward is set for his third spell with Nacional, and will be hoping to help them to their fourth ever Copa Libertadores title - and their first since 1988.

Wellington Nem - Fluminense

The 20-year-old winger is one of the most exciting players in Brazil, and has already been rewarded with a handful of caps for his country.

Along with former-Chelsea and Barcelona star Deco, ex-Lyon striker Fred and former-Hamburg playmaker Thiago Neves, Wellington Nem forms part of a potent attacking lineup at Fluminense.

The diminutive attacker can nick a goal, but his main role on the right flank is to provide the crosses for Fred - although he'll miss the prescene of Chelsea-bound 18-year-old right-back Wallace behind him this season.

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