Copa Libertadores: First Stage Preview
The Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition, begins again this week as twelve teams fight it out in the first round in order to qualify for the group stage which begins next month. “Stoppage Time” previews the impending match-ups which are played over two legs during the next couple of weeks:
JUNIOR (Colombia) v RACING (Uruguay)
Junior qualified for the Copa Libertadores as the best placed non-champion team in Colombia’s Copa Mustang competition in 2009 whilst Racing fought it through a tough pre-Libertadores ‘Liguilla’ (mini league) competition in Uruguay and qualified as runners-up. Whereas Racing will be making their maiden appearance in the Libertadores Barranquilla based side Junior have a little more experience in what will be their tenth tournament, their best finish coming in 1994 when they reached the semi-finals. The team who qualifies for the group stage will find themselves against Corinthians (Brazil), Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) and Independiente Medellín (Colombia) in Group 1.
JUAN AURICH (Peru) v ESTUDIANTES TECOS (Mexico)
Both sides are little known outside their borders and should prove to be a tough encounter seeing as they are making their third and first appearances in the Libertadores respectively. Juan Aurich qualified as the best placed team that didn’t win any of the two groups during the ‘Descentralizado’ whilst Tecos had to play in a post-season “InterLiga” for those teams that didn’t directly qualify for the Libertadores for fill up the two final berths. Despite beating Puebla in their last match they finished runners-up behind Monterrey who qualified directly. South American champions Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina), Bolivar (Bolivia) and Alianza Lima (Peru) await the winners in Group 3.
DEPORTIVO TÁCHIRA (Venezuela) v LIBERTAD (Paraguay)
Deportivo Táchira compete in their thirteenth Libertadores having qualified for the tournament as the best placed non-champion with the best aggregate points total at the end of the Opening and Closing tournaments whilst Libertad got through in a similar fashion having accumulated the most points in the Paraguayan championship. Libertad have plenty of experience in the Libertadores, their best performance coming as recently as 2006 where they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual champions SC Internacional. Deportivo also have some history in the tournment having reached the quarter-finals in 2004. The winners from this tie will play in one of the weaker groups of the tournament against Lanús (Argentina), Blooming (Bolivia) and Universitario (Peru) in Group 4.
NEWELL’S OLD BOYS (Argentina) v EMELEC (Ecuador)
The side from Argentina’s second city of Rosario have come close on two occasions to winning the Libertadores but were defeated in the 1988 and 1992 competitions. They begin in this year’s tournament having qualified with the third best average points total among non-champion clubs. They face an Emelec side who finished third in Ecuador’s ‘Serie A’ after beating 2008 Libertadores champions LDU Quito in a two-legged play-off. Whoever comes through the two matches will be in the same group as SC Internacional (Brazil), Cerro (Uruguay) and Deportivo Quito (Ecuador) in Group 5.
REAL POTOSI (Bolivia) v CRUZEIRO (Brazil)
Bolivia’s Real Potosi are making their fifth appearance in the competition having won an end of season play-off whilst Cruzeiro guaranteed their berth by finishing fourth in the Campeonato Brasileiro on the final day of the 2009 season. The Brazilian side have a distinguished history in the Libertadores having been crowned champions on two occasions in 1976 and 1997 whilst the Bolivians are making only their fifth ever appearance amongst South America’s elite. Velez Sarsfield (Argentina), Colo Colo (Chile) and Deportivo Italia (Venezuela) await the winners in Group 7.
COLÓN SANTA FE (Argentina) v UNIVERSIDAD CATÓLICA (Chile)
Colón qualified for the Libertadores thanks to having the second best average among non-champions in Argentina whilst Universidad Católica were the best placed non-champion in the 2009 Torneo Clausura. The Chileans came close to winning the competition in 1993 but succumbed to the superiority of their opponents São Paulo whilst Colón have only ever made one appearance in 1998 where they reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by compatriots River Plate. The winners of this tie will meet up against Flamengo (Brazil), Universidad de Chile (Chile) and FC Caracas (Venezuela) in Group 8.