Copa Libertadores 2013: Lessons Learned After 4 Rounds
With each passing game, the Libertadores gets more and more exciting. Giants are screaming “hear my roar: we are not done yet” while some not-so-traditional teams are establishing themselves as the best in the tournament.
With most teams with four games under their belts (Group 6, Palmeiras and Tigre are still to play their fourth match), we definitely know a lot more today than we did a few weeks ago, when the Libertadores first started.
There is still a lot of ground to cover, but the time is running out for some.
Velez Sarsfield in Charge of Group 4
Velez Sarsfield is not exactly what you would call a Libertadores juggernaut. They have won the title once in 1994 and have participated another 11 times—very small numbers compared to, say, Penarol, who has played a record 38 Libertadores and won it five times.
Well, history means very little to this team. It has already won a title in 2013—the Inicial tournament. One title is enough for these Argentinians, you say? Not so fast.
With a resounding 3-1 win over Penarol (why, yes, the same five-time Libertadores champions mentioned before), they have taken sole possession of Group 1 and practically clinched a playoff berth.
Velez has won three out of their four matched so far and will play the Ecuadorian team Deportes Iquique in Ecuador before facing Emelec at home. Both games should be a piece of cake. Deportes Iquique is dead last in the group with only one win (and three losses), while Emelec may have beaten them at home, but will not be able to stand their pressure in the Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Velez’s house.
Velez Sarsfield hasn’t simply taken control of Group 4. It has sent a message loud and clear to everybody in the tournament: “We are no pushovers.”
Groups 8 Is Still Wide Open
At first look, it seems quite clear that Group 8 was going to be one of the least interesting of the Libertadores group stage. Gremio and Fluminense were miles ahead of Huachipato. The only race was to see which Brazilian team was going to finish first.
Well, look again.
It is still arguable that both Fluminense and Gremio will advance to the playoffs—after all, they still hold the first and second spots, respectively—but their “juggernaut” status has disappeared.
Caracas and Huachipato made the Brazilians look beatable.
Boca Juniors Breathes
If you want a team with a rich history in the Libertadores, look no further than Boca Juniors.
The Argentinians have participated in the tournament finals a “mere” 10 times, winning six of them. In fact, only last year they were runner-ups to the title.
This year, though, started slow for Boca. They lost two out of their three first games—including a 2x1 loss to unknown Toluca at home. Libertadores fanatics quickly started wondering whether Boca Juniors’ dominance was over.
Well, nothing like one day after the other.
Boca Juniors is doing just fine, thank you very much. A 1-0 win over Nacional at Parque Central (Nacional’s home) put the Argentinians exactly where they belong: in the qualifying zone. To top it all, their star midfielder Riquelme has rejoined the club and is playing better than ever.
They have two games left, now: a home cakewalk against Barcelona (from Ecuador) and a chance for revenge against Toluca. A win and a tie will leave them with 10 points in the group—enough for the playoffs.
Some giants are never slain.
Sao Paulo Is in Trouble
If Boca Juniors is a Goliath that found some breathing room, Sao Paulo is still struggling with David.
A 2-1 loss to Arsenal at home made matters really difficult for the Brazilian team led by former World Cup star Luis Fabiano.
They sit at second place in their group—good enough for second place, so far—but have to play Bolivian team The Strongest in Bolivia and later fellow Brazilian Atletico-MG—regarded by some as the strongest team in the tournament (more on that later—at home.
Sao Paulo is the proud owner of three Libertadores titles, but now has to play like a champion if they want to get out of this pickle.
Atletico-MG: Best Team in Libertadores
South America, meet the heavy favorites to the title this year. Bar none.
It might be the fact they are the only undefeated team left in the tournament. Or it might be their resounding 5-2 win over Arsenal in Argentina.
But actually, what makes them the favorites is their high-powered offense, highlighted by Ronaldinho and his wonder boys Jo and Bernard.
Atletico-MG is still to win a Libertadores title. This is the year, if there ever was one.
Corinthians Not Going Anywhere
It had been a difficult couple of weeks for Corinthians.
First, they tied at San Jose and saw one of their fans fatally injure a rival fan. Later, Conmebol (rightfully) denied them the right to have fans at their home games, because of the incident. To make things worse, they lost their invincibility at the tournament that had lasted since February of 2012 to Tijuana.
But nothing like a good win, no?
On the night, Corinthians fans were allowed back inside their own stadium, Corinthians beat Tijuana 3-0 and made it loud and clear they are still one of the heavy favorites to the title. Corinthians completely dominated the game and saw great appearances from Renato Augusto, Alexandre Pato and Guerrero.
The current champions will still make a lot of noise this year.