Copa Libertadores 2013
Will Corinthians retain the most prestigious title in South America? How will the Argentine sides fare in this year’s competition? And which clubs will surprise us all?
All will be revealed when the Copa Libertadores 2013 group stage kicks off on the 12th February.
Corinthians claimed their first ever Copa Libertadores title last season beating Boca Juniors 3-1 on aggregate. Qatar international Emerson Sheik netted a brace in the second leg at the Pacaembu, in front of the adorning Timao faithful, denying Boca the chance of their seventh championship.
The title winners conceded just four goals in fourteen games throughout the tournament, with a system built upon a superb defensive foundation. Despite Falcioni’s Boca renowned for a similar style of defensive priorities, the Timao capitalised on some uncharacteristic poor defending in the final and ran out worthy winners in Sao Paulo.
But who will this year?
How they qualified: 2012 Copa Libertadores winners
Key players: Cassio, Pato, Paulinho
Strengths: Defensive solidarity with a fantastic counter attacking ability throughout the side. New recruit Alexandre Pato supplies additional firepower and may prove critical should Timao lift the trophy again.
Weaknesses: Not the deepest of squads and having already played in (and won) the World Club Cup this season, players may tire in the knockout stages as the number of games this season rack up.
Sao Paulo (BRA)
How they qualified: Finished 4th in Serie A and 2012 Copa Sudamerica winners
Key players: Luis Fabiano, Lucio, Jadson
Strengths: An abundance of attacking talent that can frighten any team in South America. Last year’s Copa Sudamerica winners have added the experienced Lucio to their squad, who will provide a firm foundation in the heart of defence. Ganso and Jadson will be key.
Weaknesses: Despite their brittle, no-nonsense centrebacks of Lucio and Rhodolfo dominating in Serie A, the partnership lacks pace across the ground and can be found susceptible to a direct forward-line.
How they qualified: Finished 2nd in Serie A
Key players: Deco, Fred, Valencia
Strengths: Creativity in the final third and always threatening on the break, La Flu can rely on Fred’s fantastic scoring record to reach the latter stages of the competition.
Weaknesses: Yet to ever win the coveted title, Fluminense looked dominant in the group stage in last year’s campaign until falling to eventual finalists Boca Juniors in the quarter final. Questions can be raised whether Flu have the bottle to go all the way in this tournament.
Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
How they qualified: 2012 Torneo Inicial winners
Key players: Ferreyra, Papa, Cerro
Strengths: Play some of the best passing football in South America and in Facundo Ferreyra, they have a gem of a player, who can score a goal in an instant.
Weaknesses: Perhaps over-reliant on Ferreyra and Pratto, El Fortin’s third top goal scorer in the Inicial had a measly two goals to his name. Should the burden of pressure become too much for 21 year old ‘Chucky’, the goals may dry up.
Boca Juniors (ARG)
How they qualified: 2nd best aggregate from 2012 non-champions/winners
Key players: Silva, Martinez, Rodriguez
Strengths: A phenomenal backing wherever they travel in South America, Boca’s legendary coach Carlos Bianchi, who won the Copa Libertadores three times in the early 2000s, has rejoined the club. A breath of fresh air after Falcioni’s reign, Bianchi should allow a freedom of expression amongst his players.
Weaknesses: Find themselves in ‘The Group of Death’ with Barcelona, Atl. Nacional and Toluca. No Juan Roman Riquelme for Los Xeneizes this year means a lack of creative talent in the final third.
How they qualified: Finished 3rd in Serie A
Key players: Elano, Vargas, Moreno
Strengths: Brilliant going forward, Gremio now poses the threat of ex-Uni. de Chile starlet Eduardo Vargas, who is on loan from Napoli. Elano has joined from Santos and brings with him a wealth of experience, talent and set-piece prowess.
Weaknesses: After strengthening their back four with the arrival of ex-Lyon centre-half Cris, the squad looks increasingly aged. The 35 year old joins Dida and Ze Roberto in Porto Alegre.
Uni. de Chile (CHI)
How they qualified: 2012 Apertura winners
Key players: Herrera, Rojas, Aranguiz,
Strengths: Last year’s semi-finalists implement methodical possession play with an attractive approach to position fluidity. Their 3-3-1-3 formation produces a wealth of options in attack when pressing.
Weaknesses: La U are no longer coached by legendary manager Jorge Sampaoli, who lead them to their 2011 Copa Sudamerica win. The club has also lost several key players in recent years with Diaz, Vargas and Castro all leaving Santiago.
How they qualified: 2011/12 Primera runner-up
Key players: Estoyanoff, Olivera, Zalayeta
Strengths: A history of dominance in this competition, the Uruguay champions have lifted the Copa Libertadores five times in their history, the last being in 1987. The sleeping giant may surprise a number of clubs should 15 goal Juan Manuel Olivera continue his fine form into the continental competition.
Weaknesses: Despite winning the Apertura by four points and losing just once, the Uruguayan league does not compare to the opposition Los Carboneros will face in the Copa. The 2011 finalists may struggle against the star-filled Brazilian sides, should they qualify from a tough group.
Newell’s Old Boys (ARG)
How they qualified: Best aggregate from 2012 non-champions/winners
Key players: Scocco, Rodriguez, Heinze
Strengths: A defiance to never lose meant that although the Old Boys did fall to defeat once in the Inicial, they drew nine, as they finished second in the league. Ignacio Scocco has the ability to score against any opposition as he proved with 13 goals in the Primera.
Weaknesses: With an aging squad, the pressures of continental football may prove too much to go all the way. Also, creative wide midfielder Mauricio Sperduti has left the club in January to join Italian side Palermo.
Atl. Mineiro (BRA)
How they qualified: Runners up in Serie A
Key players: Ronaldinho, Bernard, Jo
Strengths: Can field one of the most talented players of a generation in Ronaldinho. Meanwhile, Jo has regained the confidence that forced Manchester City to spend £19m on the lanky striker.
Weaknesses: The most inexperienced of all the Brazilian sides in the competition, the Galo have never won the competition. This may prove critical, should they qualify from the group.