Preparing for the off, another arrival, and the awaited return

Ramón Cabrero has a little over two weeks remaining to get his charges ready for their first taste of Copa Libertadores action, but insisted on Monday that Lanús are up to the challenge of going head-to-head with some of South America’s biggest clubs. First, of course, they’ve got to get past Ecuadorian side Olmedo. Boca also have cause for optimism, unveiling their latest signing, and over in Europe there’s also been a confidence boost – Lionel Messi is back in training.

‘It’s going to be a very nice experience for everyone,’ began Cabrero. ‘Just watch, we’ll arrive at a moment in which we’ve got to prioritise between the Copa [Libertadores] and the Clausura… We’re going to take on both competitions with the same mentality, but the players now are fresh from their holidays. The little pulls and the most serious injuries appear a couple of matches before the end of the campaign.’

If Lanús get past Olmedo in the qualifiers (the first leg is scheduled for the 31st January), they’ll go into Group 2, where they’ll meet Roberto Sensini’s Estudiantes, Uruguayan not-quite-giants Danubio, and another Ecuadorian side, Deportiva Cuenca. Cabrero’s worries about injury haven’t yet resulted in a dive into the transfer market – two stalwarts of the championship-winning campaign have left; Walter Ribonetto goes to Central and Diego Manicero has joined Racing. He’s got confidence in his young side, though, and with Diego Valeri’s move to Europe seemingly definitely put back until the end of the Clausura, and the adrenaline from the newly-won title running through their veins, who knows how far they could go?

Over in Barcelona, another youngster with the world at his feet was gingerly taking to them again. Lionel Messi’s been out for a little less than a month after pulling a muscle during his side’s away win over Valencia, and after missing three league matches is set to return to action this weekend against Racing de Santander on Sunday. He’ll miss Tuesday night’s Copa del Rey second-leg clash against Sevilla in the Camp Nou, but will train for the rest of the week.

And Boca Juniors confirmed their newest addition – as expected they’ve secured the signature of Paraguayan Julio César Cáceres. Cáceres won the 2002 Copa Libertadores with his first club, Olimpia of Asunción in his homeland, but it’s one of his sides since then who are causing this move to be such a headline-maker: he’ll become the first player in a little while to have played for both Boca and River Plate. His exit from the Núñez sides was hardly amicable, so the first superclásico of the year, on the 26th of January in the Torneo de Verano, could have some added spice…

‘Back then I really wanted to continue at River, but they kept saying, “It’s so difficult to negotiate with Cáceres,” not giving any credit for the effort I made, which included speaking to the president of Nantes [the French club who owned his registration]. They wanted things [from Nantes] that I couldn’t resolve, and I had to leave…’

When he signs his contract on Tuesday at La Bombonera, Cáceres will become in his own words ‘legally a Boca player,’ by which he presumably means the Xeneize have bought his registration outright from the French side. At 29 years old, the idea is that he transmits some of his experience to Boca’s younger defenders, but his most immediate concern will be adapting to the Argentine summer, after flying down from winter in Mexico. His new team-mates will take their bow in the Torneo de Verano against Independiente on Tuesday night, in Mar del Plata.

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