Copa Libertadores 2013: Lessons Learned from 1st Week of the Tournament
Old, historic teams are falling as some new, young guns emerge. It's only been a week and the 2013 Copa Libertadores already promises to be full of excitement and great soccer.
Old stars are making a comeback, some Goliaths are falling to Davids and teams are meeting their new idols.
The Libertadores is, of course, the most traditional and respected tournament in the Americas. So, it's only fit that it would start with such a fast pace. To win this tournament means the trip of a lifetime to face the Champions League winner in the Club World Cup in Qatar. You can bet these teams are giving their all for a chance to do that.
And the returning champions haven't even taken the field yet.
With only three games left in the first round of matches, here are the lessons we learned from the first week of play in the 2013 Copa Libertadores.
Boca Juniors Needs Help on Defense
Year in and year out, Boca Juniors scares and shakes every one of its Libertadores opponents. How could it not? The team hauls six Libertadores titles, has featured players like Maradona and Carlos Tevez and owns La Bombonera, one of the toughest stadiums to play in the world. Only last year, Boca Juniors advanced to the Libertadores final for the 10th time.
However, the Genoese might be in bigger trouble than previously expected.
Boca Juniors lost its first Libertadores game in a 2-1 match against the unknown team from Mexico, Toluca.
Boca Juniors opened up the score in a penalty kick taken by Santiago Silva, but that was about it for the blue-and-yellow highlights. Toluca took control of the second half and capitalized on two atrocious mistakes by Boca to leave La Bombonera with the win.
Even worse, Toluca's aging star midfielder, Sinha, had no trouble walking over Boca Junior's midfield and controlling the match, while Boca Juniors' offense lost some of its unpredictability and movement without the presence of Juan Roman Riquelme.
One game might be too little to tell, but Boca fans have plenty of reason to be worried.
Ronaldinho is no stranger to the spotlight. It might not be as bright as it was during his Barcelona days, but the 32-year-old still shows glimpses of his brilliance every so often. The 2013 Copa Libertadores seems poised to be the perfect stage for the star's resurgence.
Ronaldinho raised eyebrows last year playing for Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro, leading the team to Brasileirao second spot. He has kept on rolling thus far in 2013, in a brilliant appearance against Sao Paulo Atletico's Libertadores debut.
Atletico's first goal is a sheer moment of brilliance. When his team is awarded the throw-in, he calmly walks towards the opposing goal and asks Rogério Ceni—Sao Paulo's goalie—for a drink of water. Quickly, he turns around, takes advantage of the fact the defense is not even close to him and sets up the forward perfectly for the goal.
Ronaldinho would still find the time to set up a second teammate for the game-winning goal.
This is Ronaldinho's first Copa Libertadores since 1998, when he made his senior debut for Gremio. It might just be the time for the veteran to include the Intercontinental title to his already long list of accomplishments.
Sao Paulo Is Weaker Than Expected
On the other side of Ronaldinho's brilliant performance was Sao Paulo.
The same Sao Paulo that spent heavy amounts of cash to acquire Paulo Henrique Ganso last season and brought former Brazilian national squad captain Lucio back to Brazil. The same Sao Paulo that features legendary goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni under its pipes and striker Luis Fabiano up front. Not to mention Cortez on the wing and former Arsenal midfielder Denilson.
And what did this star-studded Sao Paulo do in its much-awaited Libertadores debut? Nothing. It was Aloisio, the striker who came off the bench, that scored Sao Paulo's lone goal.
Ganso didn't even start the game—and limited his 22 minutes to a shot in the post. Lucio looked lost all game and Luis Fabiano was apathetic, despite giving Aloisio the assist.
Sao Paulo's performance left fans wondering whether all the money and time spent in the offseason was even worth it.
Emelec Can Make Some Noise
Emelec is a very little-known team from Ecuador, and for a good reason. This team doesn't have much to be proud of outside of its home country, where it has won 10 national titles.
However, beating Velez Sarsfield—even if at home—is no small matter.
Emelec succumbed to Corinthians—the eventual champions—in the round of 16 last year, but only after holding them down to a scoreless tie at home.
Emelec's home advantage is not something to be overlooked. If they can start beating teams outside of the George Capwell Stadium, there is an enormous chance this team could actually be troublesome down the line.
Barcos Is the Real Deal
Gremio may have lost a 2-1 match against Huachipato at home, but they do have one thing to celebrate.
His name is Barcos.
The Argentinian forward was recently acquired by the Brazilian team from Palmeiras, and he proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
Barcos would only score on a penalty kick, but it was his overall game that impressed the most. His sole presence allows Gremio's skilled midfielders—Elano and Ze Roberto—to come forward dangerously and be real goal threats. Not forgetting that Barcos is a skilled header and finisher himself.
Just wait until Barcos and the rest of Gremio's players get even the slightest hint of chemistry. Look out, Libertadores.
Universidad De Chile Is Here to Stay
La U, as the Universidad De Chile is better known, is here to stay.
The Chilean club may have never won a Copa Libertadores before, but you can't help but to think the time is nearing.
They debuted with a strong 2-0 win over the weak Venezuelan Deportivo Lara. Despite the "low" score, La U absolutely dominated for 90 minutes.
Universidad de Chile constantly has to battle through loss of personnel—several of its players are constantly sold to other clubs in South America and Europe—but Argentinian manager Darío Franco brushes the losses off just the same.
An avowed follower and admirer of Jorge Sampaoli, Franco might just be the key piece of La U's puzzle. Last year, Sampaoli took the Chileans to the tournament's semifinals. The way things are looking, they can expect to go just as far this year.