The group stages of the Copa Libertadores begin tonight, and you can be sure it’ll match its European counterpart for continental excitement. For those who aren’t up to speed on the past and present of South America’s club tournament, I highly recommend reading this outstanding preview over at Hasta El Gol Siempre, the best blog out there on Argentinian football. As Sam points out, its openness and unpredictability marks it out fro its European cousin.
The Copa’s about more than only the big names and historic records, though, and that’s why I love it so much. Compared with European competition, in which only a handful of sides have a realistic shot at the Champions League each season, the Libertadores is wide open from the word go. Yes, Boca Juniors will start as heavy favourites, even more so given the return of Juan Román Riquelme, who did so well last season. But the Libertadores provides a remarkably even playing field, in spite, according to many fans, of CONMEBOL’s consistent favouring of the biggest clubs from Argentina and Brazil.
Gregory Sica of Sports Illustrated concurs that we’ll be in for a surprise. He thinks that the winner could come from outside Argentina and Brazil, touting Colombia’s Cúcuta Deportivo, Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting and Paraguay’s Libertad.
There are stars, too. Boca’s Riquelme is worth burning your house down to watch when he’s on form, whilst São Paulo will be hoping to see a return of the world class version of Adriano. And there’s Juan Sebastián Verón at Estudiantes de La Plata, who he preferred to stay with over a move to MLS.
Tim Vickery of the BBC thinks the Brazilian clubs are set to go far, with the Guardian’s Conrad Leach tipping Cruzeiro, and the Brazil Offside keeps us up-to-date on the form of Brazil’s representatives heading into the tournament.