Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Onto the finish line – South America’s elite fighting to reach knockout stages

Finally a breather. The international break in the football world gives the teams in the Copa Libertadores at least one week off from the prestigious competition. Some would point out that they don’t even need one, yes, I’m looking at you, Boca Juniors, Corinthians and Co. Others will see it as an opportunity to regroup down the final stretch.

Group 1 has seen three games for each team so far, and surprisingly Atlético Mineiro have just got 3 points so far out of a difficult away game at Santa Fe. Despite the fact that they have two home games left against Santa Fe and Colo-Colo, they need to improve to have a chance of advancing. Beating Atlas Guadalajara, who join them in last place, slowly developed into a must. Colo-Colo lead the group and have it in their own hands to put themselves in a good position for the finish.

The strongest group of the tournament, Group 2, is not any less intriguing. The champions of 2014, San Lorenzo, have their backs against the wall due to losses against the strong sides from Brazil. Corinthians with 9 points have won every game and are followed by local rivals São Paulo FC with 6. Without much of a chance meanwhile are the champions from Uruguay. Danubio FC have not won a single point yet. At least one favorite is going out of the competition here. Will it be the holders?

Group 3 is even tighter. After three games each, every team still has a realistic chance of advancing to the next round. This comes down to the fact that there are barely any goals being scored, as three of six games ended in a goalless draw. Brazil’s Cruzeiro managed to flip two goals into five points and therefore lead the group. If you want to search the positives here, you could maybe say “at least the defense is amazing.” True, but it does not make the games particularly entertaining. Universitario Sucre from Bolivia are a surprise second with 5 points as well. They are followed by Argentinian cup winners Huracán (3 points) and Mineros de Guyana (1).

Already 4 match weeks have been played in Group 4. CS Emelec from Ecuador have done the best so far. They won their first two matches in convincing fashion against U de Chile and The Strongest. Afterwards they faced the favorites Internacional from Brazil and dropped off a little, managing only one point in those games. The Brazilians are in second with 7 points as well. The Strongest are traditionally extremely strong at home. That showed when they beat Internacional 3-1 in the opener, as well as in the massively entertaining 5-3 victory against U de Chile. If they beat Emelec (again on home ground) in the next game, it would give them a chance to advance. Universidad de Chile round of the group with only 3 points so far. It does not look good for Chile’s second biggest club, they have two must-win’s against Internacional and Emelec.

The first team that already qualified for the knockout stages can be found in Group 5. Boca Juniors won all four games and only need one point in the next game against the Montevideo Wanderers to assure themselves top spot. In addition, they scored a tournament best 14 goals, which probably makes them early favorite for the Copa. Wanderers, who play in Nacional’s stadium, the Gran Parque Central, do not appear to suffer any negative side effects from that. They beat Zamora and Palestino right there, and also managed an away draw at the Chilean side. Being a mathematician as you are, you already figured out that it gives them 7 points and puts them in second place. Palestino are three points behind, but still have to play against Boca as well. The chances that anything changes here are probably slim. Zamora is last and out with zero points still.

Group 6 includes the second team that can plan for the next round. UANL Tigres from Mexico have done very well so far in collecting 10 points. Juan Aurich is second with 5. But wait, wasn’t River Plate in this group? You are right, they are one of the big disappointments so far. After having won the Copa Sudamericana, many saw them as favorites for the Copa Libertadores, but that does not seem to happen right now. Not a single win, all three points come from draws against Tigres and Juan Aurich (twice). In the away game at Tigres, they desperately need a win, as it could be all over for them if Juan Aurich win at Club San José. Which is naturally a difficult task though since the Bolivians play 3700m above the sea level in thin air. That advantage only helped them to three points so far though.

Two home wins have put Estudiantes in a good position in Group 7. Barcelona SC and Libertad did not have much of a chance in Argentina’s capital. Libertad still joins Estudiantes with 7 points at the top, as they countered with a home win against the favorites by themselves. Atlético Nacional from Colombia have every chance themselves still. Only two points behind first place, with games left against those exact teams. The home loss on the last matchday against Barcelona SC (their only win and points) hurts a lot, as a win would have put them into the lead. Barcelona has no realistic chance to make it out of this group.

If strong Argentinian teams are a story, let’s move on to Group 8. Racing Club, team of Mr. Hat Trick Gustavo Bou and Diego Milito, dominates their opponents so far with three wins in four games. The only slip-up came in the fourth matchweek, when they lost at home against Sporting Cristal. Those Peruvians will fight for second place with Guaraní until the end. At the moment, both have 5 points, but it is all set for a dramatic finale: On the last day they will meet each other in Peru. Deportivo Táchira is last with only 2 points and will most likely go out of the competition early.

So here is what the round of 16 matchups would look like at the moment:

Boca Juniors vs Juan Aurich

Corinthians vs Guaraní

UANL Tigres vs Universitario Sucre

Racing Club vs Libertad

Colo-Colo vs Montevideo Wanderers

CS Emelec vs Internacional

Estudiantes vs Santa Fe

Cruzeiro vs São Paulo FC



Photo from the game between Colo-Colo and Atlético Mineiro (2-0)                   (© ESPN)


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