The prestige, tradition, honour and international recognition bestowed upon the winners of the Copa Libertadores de América have made it an obsession for aspiring clubs and players across South America. Nevertheless, the honour of raising the coveted trophy aloft is one enjoyed by only a select few.
This year's action-packed 38-team Libertadores marathon saw Internacional of Porto Alegre surprisingly stay the course to beat Sao Paulo to the tape in the second consecutive all-Brazilian final, picking up their first ever international title in the process. With the FIFA Club World Cup just around the corner, FIFA.com takes a look back at a hectic, not to mention highly charged, seven months of football action South-American style.
Internacional of Porto Alegre take the honours
After spending the best part of a century in the shadow of city rivals and two-time South American champions Gremio, Porto Alegre's Internacional , finally emerged from the gloom to claim the first international trophy of their history. They did so in style, defeating the holders and 2005 FIFA club world champions Sao Paulo in a closely contested final .
The underdogs pulled off a major shock in the first leg at the intimidating Morumbi Stadium when Rafael Sobis popped up with a brace in a 2-1 win. Internacional completed the job with a pulsating 2-2 draw at the Beira-Rio the following week to finally end their long, long wait for continental silverware and bring a little happiness to the red half of Porto Alegre.
In notching an impressive eight wins and five draws on their way to the title, Abel Braga's side bagged 24 goals and conceded only eight. Their only blemish in an otherwise flawless campaign came in a quarter-final first-leg reverse away to LDU Quito.
The men of the moment
Following his five-goal haul, Inter captain and front man Fernandao was voted player of the tournament by the continent's football press. Strike partner Rafael Sobis also earned rave reviews, not least for his two-goal performance against Sao Paulo.
Flamboyant Sao Paulo stopper Rogerio Ceni was one to make his mark between the sticks, as did Chivas' Oswaldo Sanchez and Aldo Bobadilla of Paraguayan upstarts Libertad, who has just pen to paper with Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
Among the tournament's other top performers were midfielders Carlos Bonet (Libertad), Jorge Wagner (Inter) and Daniel Montenegro (River Plate), and Sao Paulo defender Diego Lugano, all of whom chipped in with vital goals for their sides.
Facts and figures
The 47th Copa Libertadores de America was one of the longest in the competition's illustrious history, clocking in at seven months and 15 days from start to finish. The reason? A ten-week break for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
A total of 38 teams from 11 countries contested the Copa this year. In all, 138 games were played and 386 goals scored, an average of 2.8 per game. Amazingly, the goalscoring charts saw fourteen different players tied at the top, all of them on five goals.
As for the highest-scoring and perhaps most exciting game of the competition, that honour goes to Tigres and Deportivo Cali, the Mexicans prevailing 5-4 in a Group 4 thriller in Monterrey back in February. Elsewhere, River Plate had some consolation for missing out on the silverware again. The Argentine big guns were the tournament's top-scorers with 27 goals and also recorded the biggest win: a 6-0 drubbing of Bolivia's Oriente Petrolero.
What they say:
"Internacional showed what you can achieve when you keep your feet on the ground, stick together and stay hungry. Rest assured, we'll be just as determined and focused when we represent South America in Japan." (Internacional skipper and goalscorer Fernandao)