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Why the Champions League is a cushy number

March 3, 2009

South Americans often claim that the Libertadores Cup is a tougher tournament than its European equivalent, the Champions League, and Argentine champions Boca Juniors are unlikely to disagree after their marathon journey to the Venezuelan Andes for a game this week.

In terms of quality of play, the Champions League obviously wins hands down. But bring in factors such as hostile conditions, heat, altitude and travelling and the Libertadores is a much tougher proposition.

None of the teams involved in last week’s Champions League second round ties face flights of more than a couple of hours to get to their games, with the exception of Panathinaikos who had a slightly loger trip to visit Villarreal in Spain. But even that was a short hop compared to Boca’s epic trip.

After playing Huracan in the Argentine championship on Sunday evening, Boca were up at the crack of dawn to catch a morning flight to Lima, with flying time of around four hours. That was followed by a three-hour flight to Bogota, immigration and a 90-minute domestic connection to the border town of Cucuta where the team will stay for two nights.

On the day of the match, Boca will travel for two hours over mountain roads to San Cristobal to face Venezuelan champions Deportivo Tachira, arriving shortly before kick off.

Then they do it all in reverse before facing Independiente in a derby on Sunday evening.

Mexican teams regularly face 10-hour flights to play in Brazil or Argentina — longer if their destination is anywhere other than Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires or if they start from anywhere other than Mexico City — and Asuncion in Paraguay is notoriously awkward to get to.

Possibly the most dreaded venue is Potosi, a former silver mining town perched at nearly 4,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes.

Visiting teams must fly into Santa Cruz, catch a connecting flight to Sucre and then drive for three hours over twisting mountain roads to reach the world’s highest first division stadium.

No wonder there was a collective sigh of relief when they lost to Brazil’s Palmeiras in the preliminary round this year.

PHOTO: Rodrigo Teixeira (R) of Ecuador’s Deportivo Cuenca battles Facundo Roncaglia of Argentina’s Boca Juniors during their Copa Libertadores match in Buenos Aires, February 17, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

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