Libertadores 2013 is here! Round of 16 analysis

Sorry, Galo!

Oh hi. Long time no see. Jump to read some stuff!

As some of you may be aware, the 2013 Copa Libertadores group phase has come to an end past week and the first round of playoffs has been decided by the terrific CONMEBOL. This is how they organized it:

 

Atlético Mineiro (BRA) x São Paulo (BRA)

Corinthians (BRA) x Boca Juniors (ARG)

Palmeiras (BRA) x Tijuana (MEX)

Santa Fé (COL) x Grêmio (BRA)

Fluminense (BRA) x Emelec (EQU)

Vélez Sarsfield (ARG) x Newell’s Old Boys (ARG)

Nacional (URU) x Real Garcilaso (PER)

Olimpia (PAR) x Tigre (ARG)

 

Those games will take place from April 24th to May 16th.

For the first time in the competition, a country – Brazil – has 6 teams represented in the playoffs, which is kind of an obligation given the financial abyss between the Portuguese-speaking teams and their Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Still, Brazil’s main rival Argentina has 4 teams in the playoffs, with only Arsenal de Sarandí failing to grab a spot mainly due to two 5-2 spankings given by Atlético Mineiro in the group phase.

The Libertadores structure gives home advantage at the 2nd game in the playoffs for teams that finished 1st in their respective group – that’s why Tijuana, which made 13 points and finished the group stage behind Corinthians due to goal differential, will play their first game at home against Palmeiras, that finished the group stage with 9 points, but at the top of their group.

Let’s break down the meetings:

 

Atlético Mineiro (BRA) x São Paulo (BRA)

First leg: May 2nd

Second leg: May 8th

This is, to me, the most attractive draw in this round. Both teams faced each other in the group phase, with Atlético Mineiro winning the first match at their stadium 2-1 with a magnificent showing by Ronaldinho Gaúcho.  While Atlético Mineiro went on to win their next 4 matches against The Strongest (BOL) and Arsenal de Sarandí (ARG), São Paulo struggled to take 5 points against the same opponents. Still, São Paulo managed to peg it back to Atlético Mineiro in the last round – 2-0, with a penalty kick from Soberano’s legend Rogério Ceni opening the scoreboard, and São Paulo making it to the playoffs.

Atlético Mineiro is considered today to be the best team in Brazil, playing the most attractive and offensive football game in the country. But unlike São Paulo, they don’t have too much of a background in the competition. It’s also noticeable that Cuca, current Atlético Mineiro coach, is known to have a great tactical understanding, but lacks the nerves to maintain their team together when it comes to a chance to win a title – hence his failure last year at the end of Brazilian League.

That’s why I’m going with São Paulo to win this one. They might not win at Independência, Atlético Mineiro’s home stadium, but their supporters and their history will make a huge difference when it comes to crunch time.

 

 

Corinthians (BRA) x Boca Juniors (ARG)

First leg: May 1st

Second leg: May 15th

The re-edition of 2012 Copa Libertadores Final leg won’t be as glamorous as it once was a year ago. While Corinthians still is one of the best Brazilian teams, Boca Juniors has been in a drag both internationally and domestically.

Corinthians has managed to maintain their coach Tite and brought Gil from Valenciennes, Pato from Milan and Renato Augusto from Bayer Leverkusen. So far, only Gil made his way to Corinthians’ starting line-up, while Pato, surprisingly not suffering from the once-constant injuries, and Renato Augusto are still rotational players behind the likes of Guerrero and Danilo respectively.

Boca Juniors brought back legendary coach Carlos Bianchi after Julio César Falcioni’s departure, and resolved Riquelme’s imbroglio regarding his (early) retirement. Boca also brought former Corinthians player Juan Manuel Martínez, but El Burrito hasn’t done much to justify the move.

Corinthians should the clear favorites in this draw. Historical and refereeing bias aside, nothing short of classification from Timão will be one of their biggest failure in recent times.

 

Palmeiras (BRA) x Tijuana (MEX)

First leg: April 30th

Second leg: May 14th

This is an interesting match. Palmeiras managed its classification to this edition of Copa Libertadores due to their Brazilian Cup title last year. Still, they failed to maintain themselves in Brazilian League First Division, being relegated – much of it due to Felipão, now Brazil’s NT coach. Meanwhile, Tijuana was created in 2007 and has a Chihuahua on its logo. They’ve won their first Mexican League title in 2012, and it is the first time they’ve been in Copa Libertadores.

In a normal season, Palmeiras would be clear favorites but the circumstances aren’t the same.  It doesn’t hurt me to say that Tijuana is more likely to make it through than Palmeiras, even though I wouldn’t take Verdão out of the table. Tijuana’s team was very impressive, and their home stadium with synthetic grass – that made Corinthians’ life very difficult – as well as their compact team will probably be too much for Palmeiras to overcome.

 

Santa Fé (COL) x Grêmio (BRA)

First leg: May 1st

Second leg: May 7th

The press sometimes seems to be a unique entity such as the hydra, consisting of multiple heads attached to a single body. The heads might even think differently, but everything that comes out of them seems to be the same.

Grêmio started Copa Libertadores losing 1-0 to LDU at Quito – an expected result given the feared altitude. Classifying at home after a 1-0 score and a penalty match win, they lost 2-1 to Chilean champions Huachipato at home. After the fuss created, a 3-0 trouncing win against Fluminense at Engenhão put them at the same level as Atlético Mineiro. A 4-0 win against Caracas (VEN) maintained that “status quo”, but a few bad results saw them relegated to the same place they were before.

Santa Fé was in a long drought from 1989 until 2009, when they won the Colombian Cup, and in 2012 when they grabbed Colombian League title after 37 years since their last win. They were drawn in a relatively easy group and got the 1st place after winning in the last round against Real Garcilaso.

It’s easy and obvious as well: Grêmio will win this one. And maybe Luxemburgo will brings us as much amusement as he did in their last match against Huachipato.

 

Fluminense (BRA) x Emelec (EQU)

First leg: May 2nd

Second leg: May 8th

2012 Brazilian League champions were drawn with the easiest team they could get, the press says. But I disagree.

Emelec was the team that, last year, made millions of Brazilians suffer when they took Flamengo out of Copa Libertadores by winning in one of the craziest matches ever against Olimpia 3-2. They’ve also made Corinthians battle in their first match at home while being pushed forward by their loud supporters and weak CONMEBOL refereeing.

Fluminense meanwhile has been far from impressive. Losing key players such as Deco, Fred and Thiago Neves to injury never helps, but their replacements haven’t been doing too much to justify their high wages. Fluminense’s coach Abel Braga is said to be on the verge of dropping out of the club if he doesn’t get the title this season – even though he has a Brazilian League and a Rio State Championship title on his tally in the past 2 years with Fluzão.

Emelec might be able to hold onto a draw in the first leg the same way they did with Corinthians last year, and maybe even win the match depending on how bad Fluminense’s defense plays that night. But given how the supporters have been changing their minds over the amount of criticism – both on and off the pitch – the team has been suffering at the moment, Fluminense will push forward to win. Might be harder than expected, but a win still is a win.

 

Vélez Sarsfield (ARG) x Newell’s Old Boys (ARG)

First leg: April 24th

Second leg: May 14th

Another interesting match – well, the Libertadores is full of these – will take place when those two Argentinean teams face each other, opening 2013 Copa Libertadores playoffs.

Vélez Sarsfield has been a constant in Copa Libertadores in the past few years, much due to their domestic success while winning the Argentinean League title in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Their last – and current only – Copa Libertadores title was in 1994, winning it over São Paulo in a penalty dispute.

Newell’s Old Boys is one of the few Argentinean teams that doesn’t have a Copa Libertadores on their trophy case, even though they were runners-up in 1988 and 1992. They’re very fond of current Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa, who played and coached Newell’s, even naming their stadium after him.

Given the context of an Argentinean clash, there are no clear favorites, but I fancy Velez to win. Newell’s lack of experience in the competition will be fatal to them.

 

Nacional (URU) x Real Garcilaso (PER)

First leg: April 25th

Second leg: May 9th

Nacional is one of the biggest Uruguayan teams and makes with Peñarol one of the biggest (and most beautiful) derbies of football. Both teams have been disputing Uruguayan League title since it was created – one of the reasons why both are constantly disputing the Libertadores, with Peñarol being the most successful in recent history when they made the finals with Santos in 2011. Nacional’s third and last title so far was won in 1988 over Newell’s Old Boys.

Real Garcilaso, along with Tijuana, is another young – created in 2009 – yet successful team. The Peruvian side is participating in its first Copa Libertadores after being runners-up in the national league last year.

This is easy as well. Given inexperience and how lucky Real Garcilaso was when they were drawn in an easy group, Nacional will make it through.

 

Olimpia (PAR) x Tigre (ARG)

First leg: April 30th

Second leg: May 16th

This will likely be one of the most boring games in the competition, given the lack of quality from both teams tactically and technically.

Olimpia is known to be the most successful Paraguayan team with 39 league titles and 3 Copa Libertadores trophies. An experienced team in the continental competition, their last title was won in 2002 over Brazilian team São Caetano.

Tigre supporters have been witnessing some kind of success recently, after being runners-up in both 2012 Copa Sulamericana – losing by W.O. after leaving the pitch in half-time in a 2-0 loss against São Paulo – and Argentinean League. Much of it is due to their knowingly dirty game, making hard tackles and giving some punches and kicks all over the pitch to piss-off their opponents while waiting a counter-attacking opportunity.

Given how successful Tigre’s “tactics” have been, they’re also the favorites. Olimpia won’t go far and Tigre will win the leg. That’s how it should happen.

 

If my predictions are correct (and probably won’t be, but let’s see), this is how the quarterfinals will look like:

 

Tijuana (MEX) x São Paulo (BRA)

Corinthians (BRA) x Vélez Sarsfield (ARG

Nacional (URU) x Grêmio (BRA)

Fluminense (BRA) x Tigre (ARG)

 

Let’s wait and see!

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Filed under Atlético-MG, Copa Libertadores, Corinthians, Fluminense, Grêmio, Palmeiras, São Paulo

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