Copa Libertadores: Group 1 is Number 1
By Marc Serber
Of the eight groups in this year’s Copa Libertadores, I find the first group to be the most intriguing.
For one, it is one of just 5 groups that has teams from all different countries. While I understand that you must go by the draw and seedings, why not stir up the pot and move some teams around so that each group is represented by four different countries?
Nevertheless, Group 1 is the hardest to predict and each match will be a battle amongst Barcelona (Ecuador not Spain), Nacional (Uruguay), Boca Juniors (Argentina), and Toluca (Mexico).
All three South American clubs celebrated National Championships last season, while Toluca finished top of the table during the regular season of the 2012 Apertura.
Boca Juniors have their hero, Carlos Bianchi back on the bench. The former Argentine international led Boca to Libertadores glory on three separate occasions before heading to Europe to try his luck with Atletico Madrid. Bianchi has a young but talented squad at his disposal who should do enough to navigate their way through the group stages.
Ecuadorian champions Barcelona are always a tough team to face, especially at the imposing Estadio Monumental. In Ecuadorian international Michael Arroyo, el equipo canario has a player of real invention. The 25-year-old can change the game with one electrifying run combining flash with improvisation to open up defenses. Arroyo may very well be the difference if Barcelona are going to advance to the second stage.
Uruguayan Champions Nacional have tasted Libertadores glory on three occasions, but haven’t reached such heights since 1988. After failing to get out of the group stage last year, the capital club have boosted their prospects with the signing of veteran international Sebastian Abreu. The journeymen striker will look to combine with another oldie but goodie up top, former Inter striker Alvaro Recoba.
Toluca won the regular season in Mexico before falling to fellow Libertadores entrants, Tijuana in the final of the Liguilla. The Red Devils have plenty of international fire power with 36-year-old Sinha still clever as ever when it comes to pulling the strings in midfield. In Panamanian international, Luis ‘King Kong’ Tejada, Toluca has a player who’s previously set the Copa Libertadores alight with six goals while playing for Peru’s Juan Aurich back in 2010.
Bianchi’s tactical accumen coupled with his hungry squad will be enough to see the Argentines out of the group. As for who will join them, since I have to pick someone, I will go with Barcelona. Nacional are relying on veterans well into their 30s, while the traveling will take a huge toll on Toluca. In Arroyo, Barcelona have a player who could single handedly change the complexion of the group.
At this particular moment though, the truth is it’s too close to call.
My picks to go through:
Group 1: Boca Juniors, Barcelona
Group 2: Libertad, Tigre
Group 3: Atletico Mineiro, Sao Paulo
Group 4: Velez Sarsfield, Penarol (Emelec could sneak in)
Group 5: Corinthians, Millonarios
Group 6: Cerro Porteno, Deportes Tolima
Group 7: Universidad de Chile, Newell’s Old Boys
Group 8: Fluminense, Gremio