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Copa Libertadores Preview

 Posted by on January 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm  Global Football Today, South America
Jan 292014


untitled Copa Libertadores Preview

This week marks a very week on the footballing calendar. While many will watch the Premier League during their lunch break and many others will watch to see what their clubs do to prepare for the UEFA Champions League, one of the world’s prestigious soccer tournaments will begin tomorrow. Although it is largely unknown here in the United States (outside of the Hispanic population,) the Copa Libertadores will commence in South America and Mexico. Arguably the third most prestigious tournament in all of football, the Copa Libertadores features South America’s best teams, players, and fans. Go down the list of any major South American player and chances are they have played in the Copa Libertadores.

In a year where football light is brightly shined on South America, understanding their premier tournament is important in being able to understand the culture and the passion of South American football. So with the tournament starting tomorrow, here is some important information that you need to know before watching.

What does the Copa Libertadores mean and when did the tournament start?

The Copa Libertadores dates back to 1960. The tournament was originally created as a means of celebration of the independence of South America from colonization. When originally created it was meant as a peace-building effort between the different South American countries. Independiente of Argentina currently holds the most Copa Libertadores titles with 7.

One of the really cool things about South American clubs is that so many of their teams are named after heroes of their countries various independence movements.

How is the field of teams selected?

There are 32 teams that make up the Copa Libertadores field, with teams from South American countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In 1996 Mexican club teams were invited to play in the Libertadores despite not actually being in South America. Also, clubs from Guyana and Suriname are not permitted to play in the Libertadores.

Each country, outside of Brazil and Argentina are given two spots each. With the exception of Brazil, most countries top flight club divisions play two seasons, the Apertura and Clausura. Normally a spot in the Copa Libertadores is given to the winner of each season. There is also a spot guaranteed for last year’s winner (Athletico Minero of Brazil,) and the winner of the Copa Sudamericana, which is the equivalent of the Europa League in South America. Lanus of Argentina is the current champion.

For the two countries with more than two spots, Argentina and Brazil, qualification is a bit more complicated. In Argentina, two spots are given to the winners of the Torneo Inicinal (first season) and Torneo Clausura (second season.) The two remaining spots are allocated to the two best teams that were not champions. This is determined on an aggregate system. Brazil operates very similarly to Europe with a single-season. The top three teams Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A automatically qualify, as does the winner of the Copa do Brasil, the Brazilian equivalent of the F.A. Cup.

As for how the tournament sets up, it is very similar to the UEFA Champions League. The first stage is essentially a preliminary round with twelve teams playing a two-legged playoff.

Here is the breakdown for the preliminary stage for this year’s tournament:

# Team 1 Team 2 Matchday 1 Matchday 2


Sporting Cristal (Peru) Atletico Paranaense (BRA)




Deportivo Quito (ECU) Botafogo (BRA)




Universidad de Chile (CHI) Guarani (PAR)




Caracas (VEN) Lanus (ARG)




Morelia (MEX) Santa Fe (COL)




Oriente Petrolero (BOL) Nacional (URU)





The six best teams will then move to the Group Stage where they will be in a round-robin group with three other teams. The 2014 Copa Libertadores Group Stage looks like this:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Velez Sarsfield (AR) Union Espanola (CHI) Cerro Porteno (PAR) Atletico Minero (BRA)
The Strongest (BOL) San Lorenzo (AR) O’Higgins (CHI) Nacional (PAR)
Universitario (PER) Independiente del Valle (ECU) Deportivo Cali (COL) Zamora (ECU)
Match #1 Winner Match #2 Winner Match 3 Winner Match 4 Winner



Group E Group F Group G Group H
Cruzeiro (BRA) Newell’s Old Boys (AR) Bolivar (BOL) Penarol (UR)
Defensor Sporting (UR) Gremio (BRA) Flamengo (BRA) Arsenal (AR)
Real Gracilaso (MEX) Atletico Nacional (COL) Emelec (ECU) Deportivo Anzoategui (ECU)
Match 5 Winner Match 6 Winner Leon (MEX) Santos Laguna (MEX)



The teams with the two highest point totals then move on to another two-legged playoff which eventually will culminate in a two-legged final to be played at both team’s respective stadiums.

Who are the favorites to win the tournament?

When picking the winner of the Copa Libertadores, one must always first look at what teams Argentina and Brazil are bringing to the tournament. Combined, the two countries have won the Copa Libertadores 39 out of 53 times, with Argentinian clubs winning the title 22 times. There is a reason why Argentina and Brazil have been some dominant in club football abroad and international competitions. Their club teams in their home countries are football factories that have developed hundreds of thousands of players to play in the most difficult of environments.

There are two teams from Argentina and Brazil in particular that are clearly the odds on favorites. From Argentina, Velez Sarsfield is the reigning Primera Division Champions. The club, whose name dates back 1909 and the Velez Sarsfield station in Buenos Aires, dominated league play last season scoring a league-high 31 goals. They will have a bit of a difficult first round, having to play against two clubs whose stadiums are in high elevation (The Strongest in Bolivia and Universitario in Peru).

From Brazil, the two best clubs right now are Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro. Atletico Mineiro, as I previously mentioned, is the reigning Copa Libertadores champion. It is a club that features some of Brazil’s best including Former Arsenal Defender Gilberto Da Silva and of course the legendary midfielder Ronaldinho.

But the real team to watch from Brazil is Cruzeiro, the reigning Campeonato Brasileiro Série A champions. They didn’t just win the Brazilian equivalent of the Premier League, they destroyed teams. At the end of the season, The Foxes ended the year 11 points ahead of the second place team, Gremio, and scored 77 goals, which was twelve more than any other team. The player to look out for is Midfielder Everton Ribeiro, the 2013 Campeonato Brazil Player of the Year. He is an attacking midfielder that is as deadly with his shot as any player in the world. At 24, a strong showing in the Copa Libertadores could lift him to a spot in the Brazilian national team and the World Cup.

While Brazil and Argentina have some very strong contenders the rest of South America has some very strong teams as well. Santa Fe of Colombia came within a goal last year of making it to the Copa Libertadores final, losing to Olimpia of Paraguay 2-1 on aggregate. There is also Penarol from Uruguay, a five-time champion of the Copa Libertadores.

What are some of the best matches in the first round?

O’Higgins versus Deportivo Cali

Newell’s Old Boys versus Gremio-Two clubs that finished second last year in their respective club leagues with a tremendous chip on their shoulder.

Bolivar versus Leon- If there is going to be a Cinderella out of this tournament it will come out of Group G. Leon has been flying Liga MX this year and is the 2013 Champion. Bolivar meanwhile was the 2013 Clausura champions and is the most successful team in Bolivia, having won 17 titles.

Where can I watch the tournament?

One of the cool things about the soccer boom in this country is the fight for television rights. With more sports stations wanting to show soccer, more and more leagues are getting coverage. And that includes the Copa Libertadores. Starting this year, all Copa Libertadores games will be shown on Fox Sports 1, 2, or Deportes. And if you are someone that has the Champions League package that means that you get to watch the games too! Sadly there is a lack of Gus Johnson and Eric Wynalda.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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