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Your quick guide: Copa Libertadores groups drawn

Dec 21, 2012, 6:30 PM EDT

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Europe did their bit yesterday. Today, it was South America’s turn.

Well, South America and Mexico. This time around, Liga MX not only has up to three teams in the group stage (one still to play in), one of them is likely closer to you (geographically) than your favorite Premier League team.

That team would be Xolos, or Club Tijuana. You know, the club that employs five Americans. The club that won the Mexican title. They got drawn into a group with the world champions.

That’s right, soccer fans in San Diego County. The team that holds claim to having the best team in the world is coming to your area (even if I’m completely exaggerating the validity of that claim). Get your trolley tickets now. You’re crossing at San Ysidro.

Over at The Score, Jerrad Peters has the post I would have done if I was near as good on South America as he is. So allow me to shameless cherry pick some of his group thoughts while I take you though the draw:

Group 1

Barcelona (Ecuador), Boca Juniors (Argentina), Nacional (Uruguay), Toluca (Mexico)

Boca and Nacional are titans. Together, they’ve won this competition nine times. It’s going to be difficult for either Barcelona (first place finishers in Ecuador’s last tournament) or Toluca (perhaps one tournament semi-wonders in Mexico) to break through. According to Peters, this is the Group of Death, and while I don’t see any of these quartets living up to that label, this has a claim to being the tournament’s toughest group.

Group 2

Libertad (Paraguay), Palmeiras (Brazil), Sporting Cristal (Peru), winner of Tigre (Argentina)-Deportivo Anzoategui (Venezuela)

If Tigre, forfeiters of the Sudamericana final, get through, they could win this group, though Palmeiras may still be the packet’s best team despite their recent relegation to the Brazilian second division. Their domestic cup win qualifies them for this championship, so … yay frivolous invites.

I’m not as high on Libertad’s chances as Peters, but if one of Tigre and Palmeiras shoot themselves in the foot, the Paraguayans will do through. So I guess that means I actually agree with Jerrad. Regardless, this is a weak packet.

Group 3

Atlético Mineiro (Brazil), Arsenal (Argentina), The Strongest (Bolivia), winner of São Paulo (Brazil)-Bolivar (Bolivia)

So Atlético Mineiro – arguably the best team in Brazil by the end of the Campeonato – should be grouped with São Paulo, recent winners of the Sudamericana. And there’s an Argentine team in here along with an experienced (if, likely, ineffective) Bolivian team? Yeah, this group’s a little strong.

Sucks for The Strongest: For the second year in a row, they’re likely going to be grouped with two Brazilian teams. Their Silver Linings Playbook: Three strong home matches before being eliminated.

But back to the Brazilians. Let’s just go through some names here, very quickly. Atlético will be a fan favorite because of the presence of Ronaldinho, but they also have former Manchester City strike Jo, the recently acquired Gilberto Silva, and one of the continent’s best keepers in Victor.

São Paulo, on the other hand, have the likes of Paulo Henrique Ganso, Luis Fabiano, Jadson, Paulo Assuncao, Denilson, and Lucio as their well-known calling cards. And their goalkeeper, Rogerio Ceni, has 52 career goals in the Brazilian league.

So those two teams are going through.

Group 4

Emelec (Ecuador), Peñarol (Uruguay), Vélez Sarsfield (Argentina), winner of Iquique (Chile)-León (Mexico)

No matter which of Iquiqui and León move through (I like the newly Rafa Marquez-toting León), this will be one of the competition’s deepest groups. Any of the teams could go through, though Peñarol and Vélez will probably be the favorites. Like Peters, I have my doubts about Vélez’s chances, though his doubts are actually more an admiration of Emelec than reservations about the Argentine champions.

Regardless, the gap between one and four is just not that big, and given Peñarol fell in an equally balanced (though more difficult) group last year (which they flamed out of), I can’t help but feel for the Uruguayans.

Group 5

Corinthians (Brazil), Millionarios (Columbia), San José (Bolivia), Tijuana (Mexico)

Peters astutely notes that this group means a lot of traveling for the world champions (did I mention that’s Corinthians). Two trips to northern South American countries plus another to the Mexico-U.S. border? Has any team racked up so many miles?

They’re still the favorites here. Millionarios – to whom Seattle Sounder Fredy Montero’s been thinly linked – will fight it would with Tijuana for the second spot. Given TJ’s never been in this competition before, it’s hard to predict how they’ll respond.

Group 6

Cerro Porteño (Paraguay), Real Garcilaso (Peru), Santa Fe (Colombia), winner of Deportes Tolima (Colombia)-César Vallejo (Peru)

The one group that makes Group 2 look strong. Cerro Porteño and Sante Fe will be the favorites, but in most other groups, they might not advance. There is no possible matchup of these five teams that will be the best game of a day’s competition. However, if one of these teams catches fire and racks up points, they could use the group’s weakness to leverage a high seed for the knockout round.

Group 7

Deportivo Lara (Venezuela), Newell’s Old Boys (Argentina), Universidad de Chile, winner of Olimpia (Paraguay)-Defensor Sporting (Uruguay)

One side of my brain: Newell’s Old Boys have the talent to get out of this group regardless of who comes out of the playoff.

Other side: They had trouble scoring goals in Argentina’s Inicial and were too often drawn (nine times in 19 games). That’s a bad combination for road games in Copa.

La U is going through regardless of how their transition from Jorge Sampaoli to Dario Franco progresses. Today, I’m picking Newell’s to join them, but if Peters is picking Defensor Sporting, know Argentina’s runners up are vulnerable.

Group 8

Caracas (Venezuela), Fluminense (Brazil), Huachipato (Chile), winner of Gremio (Brazil)-LDU Quito (Ecuador)

There’s going to be a divide between the group’s top two (Fluminense and the playoff winner) and the packet’s bottom half. Even within that playoff, a bolstered Gremio (third in this year’s Campeonato) should be favored, though insert cautions about Quito’s altitude here.

Even if the Ecuadorians advance, they should join Fluminense, a team that will look to push on from their Serie A title to compete for the Libertadores’ crown. Caracas and the rabbit track are just along for the ride.

  1. futbolhistorian - Dec 21, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    Group 1 looks strong. Group 6 weak.

    My predictions to advance:
    1: Boca, Toluca
    2: Palmeiras, Tigre
    3. Atletico Mineiro, Sao Paulo
    4. Velez, Penarol
    5. Chorinthians, Tijuana
    6. Cerro, Santa Fe
    7. La U, Newell’s
    8. Fluminese, Caracas

    • profootballcaulk - Dec 26, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      I gotta wholeheartedly disagree. Flu is a yes but Caracas? I see all 3 other teams stronger top to bottom but then again I rarely if ever catch Venezuelan soccer. LDU is simply tough and Gremio had a wonderful 2nd half unlike Atletico-Mineiro who were front runners and got caught.

  2. tylerbetts - Dec 21, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    This might be my favorite club tournament in the world. The quality of play makes it at least as entertaining as the Euro matches, but the fan passion completely out marks Europe and makes it much more of a magical spectacle.

    • Richard Farley - Dec 22, 2012 at 12:15 AM

      I can’t make any promises, Tyler, but hopefully the work load runs so that I can post something 1x/wk and you and I can talk re: it in the comments. What usually, happens, tho, is that these types of events get pushed down by other news, and we lose momentum. I am definitely during Africa Cup of Nations, so I wonder if we can build momentum for this.

  3. futbolhistorian - Dec 22, 2012 at 2:24 AM

    There is no doubt this is my favorite club tournament. The Euro is the NBA, high level of play, a bit sterile at times. Libertadores is the NCAA tournament. Imperfect performances. Passion galore.

    • Richard Farley - Dec 22, 2012 at 2:31 AM

      Man … this type of feedback is really helpful. It matters when you’re trying to make decisions on how to use your time. I will definitely keep this in mind when those tough January decisions come around.

  4. zava55 - Dec 23, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    This tournament is great. It deserves much more attention then what it gets. I got to somewhat disagree with the UCL being “perfect” because there are plenty of minnow teams in that competition. And it shocks me every time when there is an “upset” at the Club World Cup according to the media. The History of the Intercontinental Cup and Club World Cup: UEFA has 22 Intercontinental Cups to CONMEBOL’s 23. UEFA has 5 Club World Cups to CONMEBOL’s 4. Although UEFA’s giant clubs may be more popular and have more money, champions (including the ones exported to Europe) are made in South America.

    The language barrier most likely posses the biggest challenge to fans. The Copa Libertadores is mostly geared towards the SPanish and Portuguese speaking population and rely mostly on domestic talent. South American and Mexican teams may have foreign based players but 99% of the time it is amongst Latin American players. European teams recruit players from all over the world and therefore more people may have connection to want to watch Euro teams (plus it’s also boradcasted in English).
    The Copa Libertadores now gets viewers who are fans of Liga MX. But now through the Xolos there probably be more of an American audience watching.

    (Going off on a tangent rant here but One thing I hope for is for the American soccer fan to evolve to appreciate what they have in their backyard. It seems US and/or MLS fans are so centered on being fans of MLS, look towards UEFA, yet are very ignorant when it comes to Mexican and South American teams.The ignorance kills me every year the CONCACAF Champions League takes place when fans post the most ignorant comments. Yes, they may know the various big clubs in Europe from different leagues but don’t know non-MLS clubs in CCL beyond maybe Chivas and Herculez Gomez’s Santos.)

    The Copa Libertadores deserve much more respect from around the world. Although I keep up with it through spanish media, I hope I continue finding more English language articles.

    • centrocampistadeleste - Dec 26, 2012 at 7:14 PM

      You´re right, Zava, I have played football and I´m from Europe, but I simply cannot watch European cups, since it´s all about few big clubs, which can buy anything. There are also money in South America and Mexico, but it´s much more about soul and surprises happen (unlike in Europe) and Copas are pretty unpredictable. Therefore I prefer Western Hemisphere. You got it, problem is language. So, do you know some webpages or blogs about leagues in Southern and Central America in English or German? I think, they could gain big popularity in Europe, if the people could read about it.

  5. profootballcaulk - Dec 27, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Blog spot.pitacodogringo and he runs a show on GolTV called FootBrasil

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