Copa Libertadores: Group Stage Review
The group stage of the Copa Libertadores is finally over. Having begun on February 9th it has taken over two months to complete, mainly due to finding time in the already crowded fixture lists of the many clubs that take part in the competition. Mexican clubs San Luis and Guadalajara have a bye to the knockout phase due to their inability to complete last season’s tournament due to the Swine Flu outbreak, therefore eight group winners and only the best six runners-up would progress to the next round. Thankfully “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” can now review the group stage of South America’s elite club competition:
GROUP 1 (Corinthians 6 games/16 points; Racing 6/8; I.Medellin 6/6; C.Porteño 6/2)
Brazilian giants Corinthians easily topped this group dropping just two points in the whole league stage, a 1-1 draw away at Colombian side Independiente Medellin on Matchday 2. Not only did they win the group but they had the best record out of all the teams in the group stage, thus guaranteeing them the number one seed for the rest of the competition. Group runner-up Racing from Uruguay were unlucky in that their record of eight points from six games wasn’t good enough to gain a place in the last sixteen.
GROUP 2 (São Paulo 6/13; Once Caldas 6/11; Monterrey 6/6; Nacional 6/3)
Three times Libertadores champions São Paulo secured the leadership of the group on Matchday 6 with a hard-fought 1-0 win over 2004 winners Once Caldas. This allowed the Brazilians to leapfrog their Colombian opponents into first place with thirteen points from six games, two ahead of their nearest challengers. Mexicans Monterrey had already secured third in the table when losing their Matchday 6 game against wooden spoonists Nacional of Paraguay.
GROUP 3 (Estudiantes de La Plata 6/13; Alianza Lima 6/12; Juan Aurich 6/6; Bolivar 6/4)
Defending champions Estudiantes de La Plata secured the top of the group in the most dramatic fashion on Matchday 6 with club legend Juan Sebastián Verón scoring the winner against Alianza Lima five minutes into second half stoppage time. The Peruvians did have the consolation of knowing that they’d qualified for the knockout stage in any case but the late defeat was still a bitter pill to swallow. Bolivians Bolivar beat Peruvians Juan Aurich 2-0 on Matchday 6 to give a little respectability to their overall record but they still finished two points behind their opponents in the table.
GROUP 4 (Libertad 6/12; Universitario 6/10; Lanús 6/8; Blooming 6/1)
Paraguay’s Libertad knew that they had the group as good as won when they went to play Bolivians Blooming on Matchday 6. With Blooming having the second worst record in the tournament the Paraguayans secured top spot with a 2-1 away win. The pressure was on in the other Matchday 6 tie between Universitario and Lanús who were both looking for the second place in the group and hoping to squeeze into the knockout stage. Peruvians Universitario edged it over their Argentinian counterparts courtesy of a goalless draw which allowed the U‘s to progress with a two point cushion over Lanús.
GROUP 5 (Internacional 6/12; Deportivo Quito 6/10; Cerro 6/8; Emelec 6/2)
Porto Alegre based Internacional, Libertadores champions in 2006, edged out their nearest challengers from Ecuador on Matchday 6 when they easily disposed of Deportivo Quito 3-0 at home to secure top spot. Unfortunately for Deportivo there is now no chance that they an emulate their compatriots LDU in winning the tournament (LDU were the first Ecuadorian Libertadores champions in 2008) because they had the second worst record of those teams finishing second in their group, their negative goal difference after six games was instrumental in them losing out.
GROUP 6 (Nacional 6/12; Banfield 6/11; Morelia 6/5; Deportivo Cuenca 6/4)
Three time Libertadores champions Nacional of Montevideo just shaded current Argentinian champions Banfield into first place in what was a real fight to the end for the top two. Nacional’s 2-0 away win against Banfield in Matchday 4 proved to be the real difference between the two sides as both sides matched each other’s result’s in the final two matches of the group. Matchday 6 saw Banfield easily brush aside the challenge of Ecuadorians Deportivo Cuenca winning 4-1 but the Uruguayans secured top spot with a 2-0 home win over Mexican side Morelia. Both sides will now face tough Brazilian opposition in the next round of the tournament.
GROUP 7 (Vélez Sársfield 6/13; Cruzeiro 6/11; Colo-Colo 6/8; Deportivo Italia 6/1)
In the only group containing three former South American champion clubs the group was effectively decided before a ball was kicked on Matchday 6. If Chileans Colo-Colo were to have any hope of qualifying they had to put a cricket score past second place Cruzeiro just to have a chance of getting the last place amongst the second-placed group qualifiers. In any case the Brazilians, containing the group stage’s top scorer Kléber, got a point in a 1-1 draw to finish three points ahead of the Chileans. Vélez Sársfield, champions of this tournament in 1994, hammered Venezuelan outfit Deportivo Italia 4-0 in their last match to finish two points ahead of Cruzeiro and will play Guadalajara in the next round.
GROUP 8 (Universidad de Chile 6/12; Flamengo 6/10; Universidad Católica 6/7; Caracas FC 6/2)
With two Chilean clubs in this group football took a back seat during the campaign as the terrible earthquake that hit the country in February affected the nation and its people badly. Understandably the clubs didn’t wish to play football at that time but later resumed their participation in the competition. Universidad de Chile toped the group by two points from Brazilian champions Flamengo as the Chileans took four points from the Rio giants in their two matches, the extra points for Universidad proving to be the difference between topping the group and coming second.
KNOCKOUT STAGE DRAW (Home teams in first leg on the left)
Flamengo (Brazil) - Corinthians (Brazil)
Universitario (Peru) – São Paulo (Brazil)
San Luis (Mexico) – Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina)
Guadalajara (Mexico) – Vélez Sársfield (Argentina)
Once Caldas (Colombia) – Libertad (Paraguay)
Banfield (Argentina) - Internacional (Brazil)
Cruzeiro (Brazil) – Nacional (Uruguay)
Alianza Lima (Peru) – Universidad de Chile (Chile)
1st Legs from April 28th; 2nd Legs from May 5th