Copa Libertadores Defenders

Top 5 Defenders in the Copa Libertadores

Tim Sturtridge

With the 2010 Copa Libertadores now at the quarter-final stage Soccerphile runs the rule over the best talent in the tournament. For the second part of the series we pick out the defenders who have come up trumps in this year's competition.

Iván Hurtado

Team: Deportivo Quito (ECU)

Birth date: 16/08/1974, Age 35

Place Of Birth: Esmeraldas, Ecuador

International Caps: 163

At the heart of Deportivo Quito's defence you will find a colossus of Ecuadorian football. Throughout a distinguished career Iván Hurtado has established himself as a classy defender who comes away with the ball far more often than not.

There was heartbreak for Hurtado in this year's edition of the tournament as Deportivo Quito bowed out at the group stage. Despite finishing runners-up to Internacional in Group 5 the Ecuadorians failed to make the knock-out stages on account of Mexican sides Guadalajara Chivas and San Luis being handed byes as a result of last year's H1N1 virus debacle.

Hurtado was at the heart of a golden period of Ecuadorian football which saw them qualify for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. The centre-back's defensive partnership with power house Giovanny Espinoza was key to Ecuador advancing from Group A along with the host nation in Germany.

Hurtado's calm and collected style of defending has drawn comparisons with Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer and although he has now quit the international scene he may well get another shot at the Copa Libertadores.

Kléber

Team: Internacional (BRA)

Birth date: 01/04/1980, Age 29

Place Of Birth: São Paulo, Brazil

International Caps: 19

For all of Iván Hurtado's assuredness at the back he was put to the test when Internacional came to town. A constant thorn in the side of Hurtado's back-line was the Brazilian outfit's marauding left-back Kléber.

Kléber is everything and more you would expect for a buccaneering Brazilian full-back and does as much good work in the opposition area as he does in his own. Even at 29-years-old Kléber's ability to bomb up and down the pitch shows no sign of abating.

With Internacional facing holders Estudiantes in the quarter-finals they will hope Kléber can continue to shore things up in defence as well as making valuable contributions higher up the pitch.

After a journeyman career including stints in Germany and Switzerland the left-back now appears settled at Internacional.

Miranda

Team: São Paulo (BRA)

Birth date: 07/09/1984, Age 25

Place Of Birth: Paranavaí, Brazil

International Caps: 6

São Paulo's recent success has been built on a solid defence and at the heart of the backline you can find João Miranda de Souza Filho. How the six-foot plus centre-back has not been snapped up by a European outfit yet is the cause of much surprise in Brazil.

Miranda may have missed out on his fourth consecutive Brazilian title last year but he still found his way into the league's coveted team of the season. After winning league titles with São Paulo in 2006, 2007, 2008 he has admitted that he is focused on adding a Copa Libertadores win to his already impressive career achievements.

Miranda's defensive talents helped São Paulo book top spot in Group 2 of the Copa Libertadores this year as the team only conceded twice in six games. After two more clean sheets in the first knock-out round São Paulo finally triumphed over Universitario on penalties.

Miranda has missed out on Brazil's World Cup squad despite already enjoying a trip to South Africa with his nation's Confederations Cup winning team. The defender's next challenge is to help São Paulo overcome domestic rivals Cruzeiro in the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals.

Nicolás Otamendi

Team: Vélez Sársfield (ARG)

Birth date: 12/02/1976, Age 22

Place Of Birth: Buenos Aires, Argentina

International Caps: 6

Nicolás Otamendi's 2010 Copa Libertadores may have ended after Vélez Sársfield's defeat to Guadalajara Chivas but the defender's season is far from over. Otamendi is now one of the first names on Diego Maradona's teamsheet and so looks certain to play a big role for Argentina in South Africa.

Otamendi first burst on the scene as part of Vélez's 2009 Clausura winning team in Argentina. He established himself in the side after replacing the injured Waldo Ponce and after 11 games for Vélez he found himself playing for Argentina.

Although primarily a centre-back expect to see Otamendi playing in South Africa as right-back. His performances for Maradona have convinced the coach, if not the rest of the world, that Otamendi is a better option than Javier Zanetti of Inter Milan.

Otamendi is also benefiting from being part of an ultra-competitive Vélez team that will no doubt get another stab at the Copa Libertadores next year.

Waldo Ponce

Team: Universidad Católica (CHI)

Birth date: 04/12/1982, age 27

Place Of Birth: Los Andes, Chile

International Caps: 23

So what became of Waldo Ponce after Nicolás Otamendi took his place at Vélez Sársfield? The cultured defender was not short on suitors after he signalled he wanted out from Vélez and he joined fellow Copa Libertadores hopefuls Universidad Católica in his native Chile.

In truth Católica's Copa Libertadores campaign was nothing short of a disaster as they missed on qualification from Group 8. The lack of progress was made all the more heartbreaking because domestic rivals Universidad de Chile qualified at their expense.

Deadball specialist Ponce has had little time to dwell on Católica's early exit however as he is currently training with Marcelo Bielsa's Chile squad ahead of the World Cup in South Africa.

If Chile are to do anything in a tight group including Spain, Honduras and Switzerland they will need Ponce to be at his assured best in the centre of defence. The odd rocket of a freekick into the top corner would also be welcome.

Tim Sturtridge