Club World Cup winners Corinthians will face Bolivia’s San José, Colombia’s Millonarios and Mexico’s Tijuana during the group stage of the 2013 Copa Libertadores—South America’s Champions League equivalent. The competition’s Group of Death (Grupo dela Muerte/Grupo da Morte) will pit 2012 runners-up Boca Juniors of Argentina against Barcelona of Ecuador, Nacional of Uruguay and Toluca of Mexico.
The draw for the first two stages of the tournament took place at CONMBEBOL headquarters in Luque, Paraguay (near Asuncion), and as far as draws go this one was especially long, untidy and jam-packed with extra-curriculars.
After Brazilian guitarist Rafael Moreira kicked things off CONMEBOL president Nicolás Leoz took the stage and delivered an address dealing mostly with the importance of developing regional football.
Then followed what Brazilian outlet Globo referred to as “a long session of tributes” to pretty much everyone and everything connected to South American football, from long-time manager José Pekerman to former Bolivia midfielder Milton Melgar, Deportivo Cali and Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, ex-Peru attacker Percy Rojas and the entire 1991 Colo Colo team, who that year became the first (and so far only) Chilean side to win the Libertadores.
There was some housekeeping to do as well. One-match bans will be issued for players who accumulate three yellow cards, but once the group stage is complete all existing bookings will be wiped off the record. Also, teams qualifying for the group stage will be able to register 30 players, while first-stage teams will initially name a 25-man squad with an additional five spots to be granted should they progress.
Finally, the draw.
Twenty-six teams initially went into the four pots for the group stage, with Mexican sides Toluca and Tijuana and the six first-stage allocations in Pot 4. The first stage consists of six, two-legged ties with the winners progressing to the group stage and was drawn as follows:
Tigre (Argentina) v Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela): winner progresses to Group 2
Grêmio (Brazil) v LDU Quito (Ecuador): winner progresses to Group 8
Deportes Tolima (Colombia) v César Vallejo (Peru): winner progresses to Group 6
Olimpia (Paraguay) v Defensor Sporting (Uruguay): winner progresses to Group 7
São Paulo (Brazil) v Bolívar (Bolivia): winner progresses to Group 3
Iquique (Chile) v León (Mexico): winner progresses to Group 4
First stage matches are scheduled to begin on January 25 with the group stage commencing in early February and wrapping up in the third week of April.
From there the draw for the group stage proper was held and included a rather awkward moment when the CONMEBOL representative at Pot 3 was unable to get the paper out of the mini footballs (the business end of the draw looks quite similar to UEFA Champions League draws) and on three occasions required assistance to produce the name of the selected team.
If nothing else the resulting levity served to stir the club officials who appeared to be dozing off in their seats, and by early afternoon the day’s proceedings had created eight competitive brackets, each with their unique talking points.
Following is a brief glance at the lot of them.
Group 1: Barcelona (Ecuador), Nacional (Uruguay), Boca Juniors (Argentina), Toluca (Mexico)
Toluca are the most-experienced Mexican side in the Libertadores, but they’ll be in tough in the Grupo dela Muerte (or, if you prefer Portuguese, Grupo da Morte), where they’ll face Nacional and Boca—who between them have nine Libertadores titles—and Barcelona, who convincingly won Ecuador’s Serie A in 2012.
Prediction: Nacional and Boca Juniors to progress
Group 2: Sporting Cristal (Peru), Libertad (Paraguay), Palmeiras (Brazil), winner of Tigre-Deportivo Anzoátegui
Despite their relegation from Brazil’s Serie A, Palmeiras are still strong enough to get out of this group and should advance to the Round of 16 alongside Libertad, the 2012 Paraguayan Clausura champions. Tigre, who finished runners-up to São Paulo in the Copa Sudamericana, could perhaps make things interesting if they can manage keep their heads.
Prediction: Libertad and Palmeiras to progress
Group 3: Arsenal (Argentina), The Strongest (Bolivia), Atlético Mineiro (Brazil), winner of São Paulo-Bolívar
This is one of the more fascinating groups, and São Paulo—the Sudamericana winners who added to their squad during the week by acquiring Brazil defender Lucio—should be tipped to win the bracket despite having to play a first-stage qualifier just to be involved. The altitude of La Paz will make The Strongest a difficult opponent, but it’s hard to see both Brazilian sides not advancing.
Prediction: São Paulo and Atlético Mineiro to progress
Group 4: Vélez Sársfield (Argentina), Peñarol (Uruguay), Emelec (Ecuador), winner of Iquique-León
Emelec have some goals in them—most notably in the form of 21-year-old striker Marlon de Jesús—and will likely pose the most serious challenge to Peñarol, who have lifted the Libertadores trophy on five occasions. Velez finished five points above Newell’s Old Boys to win the Torneo Inicial earlier this month and will push the Ecuadorians for second place.
Prediction: Peñarol and Emelec to progress
Group 5: Corinthians (Brazil), San José (Bolivia), Millonarios (Colombia) Tijuana (Mexico)
Corinthians are the reigning champions and also beat Chelsea to win the Club World Cup on Sunday. They’re also about to add Alexandre Pato to the ranks, and their biggest challenge in this bracket will be the amount of traveling they have to do. Once again, the altitude of Bolivia will make San José a formidable opponent as well, but Millonarios likely pose Corinthians’ biggest threat.
Prediction: Corinthians and Millonarios to progress
Group 6: Santa Fe (Colombia), Cerro Porteño (Paraguay), Real Garcilaso (Peru), winner of Deportes Tolima-César Vallejo
Santa Fe missed the play-off cut in the Clausura after winning the 2012 Apertura but should still get out of the group alongside Cerro Porteño, who also won the Apertura and came second to Libertad in the aggregate table.
Prediction: Cerro Porteño and Santa Fe to progress
Group 7: Deportivo Lara (Venezuela), Universidad de Chile (Chile), Newell’s Old Boys, winner of Olimpia-Defensor Sporting
This is another bracket where the winner of the first stage tie will have a legitimate chance of going through to the knockout round. Defensor Sporting won the Uruguayan Clausura in 2012 and narrowly lost the championship playoff to Nacional. Their captain, Nicolás Olivera, will be familiar to anyone who followed Sevilla about 10 years ago. Universidad, the 2011 Sudamericana winners, are the best side in what is becoming a reasonably competitive Chilean league.
Prediction: Defensor Sporting and Universidad de Chile to progress
Group 8: Fluminense (Brazil), Huachipato (Chile), Caracas (Venezuela), winner of Grêmio-LDU Quito
Again, a group where the first round winner will be very competitive, and another bracket where two Brazilian teams look a good bet to go through. Fluminense, winners of the 2012 Campeonato Brasileiro, have to be considered among the favourites to win this Libertadores while Grêmio, who came third in the league and have won this competition twice before, recently bolstered their side by adding former AC Milan and Brazil goalkeeper Dida. Fluminense will also be motivated by the fact they’ve never won a continental title, coming second to LDU Quito in the 2008 Libertadores.
Prediction: Fluminense and Grêmio to progress