Friday, April 22, 2016

Promising round of 16 matchups in Copa Libertadores

The group stages are officially done with last night's expected advancement from title holders River Plate and São Paulo FC. Here is the look at what is coming up next in the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

The trophy. (Photo:
Best team of the group stages was, at the end unsurprisingly, Atlético Nacional. They absolutely killed it in their Group 4 without conceding a single goal through six matches. Now, as the system wants it, they will face one of their group opponents in the round of 16 again: Huracán. During the group stage play, Atlético Nacional collected four points against these opponents. The Argentine Copa Sudamericana finalist was the worst second placed team in the competition and host the Colombians in Buenos Aires at first. 

Mexico brought both of their qualified teams into the round of 16, best of them being Pumas UNAM. They scored an outstanding 17 goals (2.83 per game), leading all teams along with River. Their round of 16 opponent could be harder: Deportivo Táchira from Venezuela. Once again, both teams already met during the groups with both teams winning one each against each other. It remained Pumas' only loss (15 points). On the other hand, Táchira sport the worst goal difference of all teams remaining in the Copa (-5).

A classic between two big South American teams awaits us when Corinthians play Nacional. I am really looking forward to this game, because not only am I cheering for Nacional, but Corinthians have done really well to cope with their exit wave during the past transfer window and finished as the Copa Libertadores' third best team. Uruguay's champion has good experiences with Brazilian teams this season as they managed to beat Palmeiras home and away. 

Not much needs to be said about the following game either. Brazil's Atlético Mineiro will play Racing Club from Argentina. It is a fantastic game to look forward to with Racing's at times spectacular offense featuring Milito, Lisandro López and Co. Mineiro attack with (former) superstar Robinho themselves. If this does not become a great round of 16 battle, then I do not know what will. The Brazilians finished their group with four wins, while Racing only managed two. 

The second Mexican team Toluca will be in action against São Paulo. It is not exactly a draw you wish for as a group winner, as the Brazilians found their form later on, especially through Jonathan Calleri's amazing goalscoring record. Through the first three games, they had only managed two goals. Later on, they added nine. Toluca themselves do not need to hide. They won a difficult group including Grêmio, San Lorenzo and LDU Quito. 

While San Lorenzo got eliminated, all other Argentine teams made it through. For example Boca Juniors. Struggling a bit in early 2016, they fired their double coach and ended up making it to the round of 16. Now they face Cerro Porteño. The Paraguayans are the only survivors from their country and made it into this stage on the last matchday. In the Copa Libertadores, Cerro have struggled to score goals, actually conceding more than converting themselves. Boca on the other hand are the one team next to Atlético Nacional that is still unbeaten. after exiting early in the scandalous Superclásico last year, the odds favour Boca this time around. 

Title holders River Plate ended up winning their group with relative ease despite their continuous league struggles. For only finishing seventh best group winner, they received an opponent they will not be unhappy about. Ecuador's Independiente del Valle will host the champion first, if the situation in Ecuador allows it anyway. Independiente's defense has been excellent, allowing only four goals and beating Atlético Mineiro in the process. They ended up beating out Colo Colo for the final round of 16 spot. However, River are all about the offense. The aforementioned 17 goals lead all teams in the competition. 

Last but not least, Rosario Central won the group including Nacional narrowly and their reward is a travel to Porto Alegre to take on Grêmio. Central have been doing well offensively all season and have no trouble scoring with the likes of Marco Rubén or Franco Cervi. On the other hand, their defense is not always holding up and Grêmio might pose quite a challenge for them. The Brazilians had a pretty average campaign so far number wise, but did end up beating San Lorenzo comfortably for the final round of 16 spot. Atmosphere and quality wise, this could be a game to watch as well for sure.

Full knockout stage tree


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