The Copa Libertadores Starts Today!
By Marc Serber
For those of us who have been told that our love for soccer is a no longer a passion, but rather a sickness, there is no worse feeling than a Champions League hangover. That dreaded “what am I supposed to do now” feeling.
Okay, maybe a regular hangover is worse, but the Copa Libertadores starts today and with its later kickoff times, South America’s premier club competition offers the perfect “hair of the dog” in soccer terms.
Here are the matches on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (after the Europa League) which can act as your bloody marry after a night of countless shots to the face.
TUESDAY: Emelec v. Velez Sarsfield
Out of Ecuador’s coastal city of Guayaquil comes an intriguing match for the first day of the competition proper.
The home side finished second in Ecuador last season ahead of traditional powerhouse LDU Quito. “the Light bulbs” as they are known have a few bright young things in 23-year-old international Enner Valencia and Under-21 international Marcos Caicedo. The latter is a speedy left footer who has been utilised as both a winger and left back. The shop window to Europe is officially open.
Velez Sarsfield is always one of the best teams in the Copa Libertadores. Winners of Argentina’s Torneo Inicial last season, the Buenos Aires club were beaten by Neymar’s Santos in last season’s quarterfinal. In 2011, Velez were just a penalty miss away from facing Santos in the final. With the continual theme of “so close and yet so far,” the Copa Libertadores has become something of an obsession for the club from the Liniers neighbourhood of the capital.
WEDNESDAY: Boca Jr v. Toluca OR Atletico MG v. Sao Paulo
Last year’s beaten finalist take on Mexico’s regular season champions. There will be no Juan Riquelme pulling the strings for Boca, but a certain Sinha will be doing just that for Toluca. The World Cup veteran has plenty of quality targets to pick out such as Mexican international Juan Carlos Cacho, Paraguayan international Edgar Benitez and Panama’s goal machine, Luis ‘King Kong’ Tejada.
Atletico Mineiro versus Sao Paulo will see Brazil’s runners up take on the 2012 Champions of the Copa Sudamericana (think Europa League). Not only is this match going to be a cracker, but Atletico has a certain player named Ronaldinho in its ranks.
Sao Paulo has its own legend in goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni. The 40-year-old is a one club man (With Sao Paulo since 1992) and has scored over 50 goals from penalties and free kicks.
Not only does this match offer two of the best teams in Brazil and a continental champion, but it’s worth it just to say you saw these two legends play. Especially if either curls home a trademark spectacular.
THURSDAY: DEPORTES TOLIMA v. CERRO PORTENO
From the central city of Ibague, Deportes Tolima have been one of the revelations in Colombia over the last few years. “Los Pijaos” shocked everyone in making it to the quarterfinals of the Copa Sud in 2010 before failing to impress in the group stages of the Copa Lib the following year.
Back in the tournament after a year’s absence, Tolima like to make use of the long diagonal ball to their streaking wingers or forwards who have drifted out wide to sneak in behind the fullbacks.
Cerro Porteno is one of Paraguay’s most successful clubs. While “El Ciclon” has never won the continents most prestigious title, it has reached the last four on six different occasions. This includes 2011 when the Paraguayans fell just a goal short of the final to Neymar’s Santos.
Two midfielders worth watching are 2006 World Cup veteran Julio Dos Santos and Jonathan Fabbro. Both players possess exquisite skill, an eye for goal, and the ability to play that killer pass which can turn a game on its head.
Cerro Porteno could once again progress to the late stages of the tournament.
I hope this wets your whistle. So when Celtic v. Juventus or Real Madrid v. Manchester United ends you won’t be feeling groggy as you ask yourself “What am I supposed to do now?”
The answer is to flip over to South America.