Brazil World Cup Stars Cannot Prevent Disastrous Copa Libertadores Campaigns

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportMay 20, 2014

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - MAY 14: Fans of Cruzeiro react following a match between Cruzeiro and San Lorenzo as part of Copa Bridgestone Libertadores 2014 Quarter Final at Mineirao stadium on May 14, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

And with the final whistle at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte last Wednesday, it was all over. Cruzeiro, the current Brazilian champions, could only manage a draw with Argentine club San Lorenzo and, having lost away, were sent crashing from South America's premier club competition.

With them went Brazil's hopes of landing a fifth straight title in the continental tournament, the first time in over two decades a Brazilian club will not be in the final four.

Internacional in 2010, Santos in 2011, Corinthians in 2012 and Atletico Mineiro last year. This country has dominated the Libertadores in recent times.

Atletico Mineiro won the Copa Libertadores in 2013.
Atletico Mineiro won the Copa Libertadores in 2013.Bruno Magalhaes/Associated Press

With six entrants in this year's edition; four through the league, last year's winners and the Copa do Brasil holders, optimism was high that another crown could be worn.

Signs of weakness were there from the off, however. Atletico Paranaense, after an excellent Campeonato Brasileiro campaign last year, which saw them eventually finish third, only made it to the group stage at all following a penalty shootout victory over Sporting Cristal of Peru.

Their decision not to renew coach Vagner Mancini's contract at the end of last year was as misguided as it was perplexing. Former Brazil striker Adriano was brought in and released almost as quickly after one goal and a group stage elimination for the Curitiba club.

And the group stage was not kind to Brazil. Two other clubs also fell at the first hurdle.

Rio sides Flamengo and Botafogo failed to make it through to the knock-out rounds for very different reasons.

Botafogo, appearing in the Libertadores for the first time since 1996, were eliminated at the group stage.
Botafogo, appearing in the Libertadores for the first time since 1996, were eliminated at the group stage.Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images

Flamengo made the error of trying to take on all comers on all fronts. Attempting to win both the Rio de Janeiro state championship and the Copa Libertadores took a serious toll on their threadbare squad.

Botafogo's stutter was harder to fathom. Here was a side who had mounted a serious title challenge for the majority of 2013.

They were back in the Libertadores for the first time since 1996. It was a moment to savour.

But before the season began, they were hit by severe losses. Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira left for Santos and influential veteran Clarence Seedorf accepted the challenge of taking over the reins at old club AC Milan.

Nevertheless, they could still count on Selecao goalkeeper Jefferson, exceptional young central defender Doria and promising midfielder Gabriel.

And the Glorioso made a good start to the group, taking seven points from four games and looking odds-on to progress. But the lack of a clinical centre-forward put paid to their chances.

Jo was the leading scorer in last year's Libertadores with seven strikes.
Jo was the leading scorer in last year's Libertadores with seven strikes.Jorge Saenz/Associated Press

Successive defeats against Union Espanola and San Lorenzo, without registering a goal, put an end to their hopes and the management of Eduardo Hungaro.

Gremio, Brazilian champions Cruzeiro, and defending their Libertadores crown, Atletico Mineiro were in the last 16.

Atletico boasted Brazil goalkeeper Victor and forward Jo, not to mention former two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho and experienced forward Diego Tardelli. Their chances of successive titles did not look far fetched, despite the loss of influential coach Cuca.

But they came unstuck against Atletico Nacional of Colombia, with Ronaldinho, who has generated much debate concerning his absence from the upcoming World Cup, putting in an anonymous performance as the Brazilians lost the first leg away 1-0.

Leading 1-0 at home, they conceded an equaliser three minutes before the final whistle eliminating the champions, despite Victor only having had to make one save previously in the game.

Ronaldinho was poor as the Brazilians were eliminated by Atletico Nacional of Colombia.
Ronaldinho was poor as the Brazilians were eliminated by Atletico Nacional of Colombia.Pedro Vilela/Associated Press

Gremio were sent packing by the same San Lorenzo who comprehensively dispatched Botafogo in the group stages. With Cruzeiro as the last Brazilian hope, last week's failure means the country is absent from the semi-finals for the first time since 1992.

In World Cup year, the Libertadores could arguably have been seen as the best preparation for those on Selecao coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's radar.

Felipao has named only four Brazil-based players in his 23-man World Cup squad. Three were involved in the Libertadores.

Botafogo's season continues to go from bad to worse. They have won just one of their first five games in the Campeonato Brasileiro and Jefferson's continued consistency is the one silver lining over their dangerously low-hanging storm cloud.

Victor and Jo, of Atletico Mineiro, were the stars of last year's show. Jo was the competition's leading scorer, with seven goals, whilst Victor's heroics from the penalty spot saved Atletico's bacon on more than one occasion, including the final.

This year, there was no last hurrah. Will the country's international hopes of a sixth world title follow the same fate as their continental dominance?