Copa Libertadores 2012 Preview: Part 2

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 04/02/12)

Part 2 looking at the group stages in the upcoming Copa Libertadores

Group 5 (Nacional, Alianza Lima, Vasco de Gama, Libertad)
Nacional qualified as Uruguayan champions and have a decent squad with experienced players such as Alvaro Recoba, Diego Placente and Andrés Scotti alongside promising youngsters such as Gonzalo Bueno, Facundo Piriz and Tabaré Viudez and recently signed wonderkid Juan Cruz Mascia. 

The big name in the group however is Vasco de Gama.  In what was a successful year for the Rio club as they finished as runners up in the Brazilian league, were crowned Copa do Brasil champions and were semi-finalists in the Copa Sudamericana.  In Ded they have probably the best defender on the continent and Rômulo is a very promising young midfielder.  Free-kick specialist Juninho and Diego Souza bring guile to a midfield strengthened by ex-River Plate man Matías Abelairas.  Furthermore, they have boosted their strike force with experienced Ecuadorian front man Carlos Tenorio from Dubai side Al-Nasr. 

Alianza Lima probably have the best chance out of all the Peruvian sides but it’s a tricky group to qualify from.  They have some decent youngsters in Jorge Bazán, Paolo Hurtado, Joazhiño Arroe and have added wisely to a good squad in the form of Meneses from Universidad Católica and powerful winger Giancarlo Carmona.  However, due to pay issues Colombia’s once golden boy Johnnier Montaño has left the club and Paolo Hurtado’s future is in doubt too. 

Finally, Libertad, in their tenth consecutive campaign, overturned a 1-0 loss to Ecuadorians El Nacional in a foggy first leg to make it through to the group stage, comfortably winning the second leg 4-1 in Asuncion.  The Paraguayans have a decent squad with the experience of internationals Víctor Cáceres and Jonathan Santana as well as the likes of Víctor Ayala, ex-Ipswich man Luciano Civelli and lively forwards Rodolfo Gamarra and Pablo Velázquez.  One to watch out for is 17 year old Maurito Caballero, who is likely to make some cameos from the bench.  It should be a toughly contested group with Vasco probably the only certainty to qualify, most likely joined by Nacional.

Group 6 (Corinthians, Deportivo Táchira, Nacional, Cruz Azul)
Brazilian champions Corinthians start as firm favourites in Group 6 and should have no problems qualifying for the knock-out stages.  New signing Liédson should give them more potency in the final third and they will hope that Adriano’s shots will be hitting the back of the net rather than female passengers’ hands.  The creativity of Alex, Danilo and Paulinho in midfield will be fundamental to their success. Also keep an eye out for Chinese loanee Chen Zhizao. 

Venezuelan champions Deportivo Táchira have had more appearances in the Copa Libertadores than any other Venezuelan club but will be fortunate to make it through, especially without Yonathan Del Valle who left for Auxerre last summer.  Experienced strike duo of Sergio Herrera and Cristian Cásseres will hope to take goal scoring responsibilities. 

Paraguayan outfit Nacional came 2nd in their domestic league and hold legitimate hopes of making it through the group stage.  They have lost midfielder Marcos Melgarejo to Libertad but new coach Torrente has brought in Javier Villarreal whilst Silvio Torales is a decent prospect.  Their main competition will come in Mexican side Cruz Azul.  The Mexican runners up have a strong squad with the experience of Torrado and Ponce as well as decent young players Julio Domínguez, Javier Aquino and Néstor Araujo.  In strikers Emanuel Villa, who has been a lot better since his return from a poor spell at Derby, and Edixon Perea they also have a potent strike force and I fancy them to qualify along with Corinthians.

Group 7 (Vélez Sársfield, Deportivo Quito, Defensor Sporting, Guadalajara)
Vélez Sársfield will be looking to build on their semi-final disappointments in both last year’s Libertadores and Sudamericana and once again should be one of the favourites for the title. After suffering a bit of a wobble after the sales of Silva, Moralez and Tricky Ricky Álvarez, they recovered well and have strengthened their already strong squad.  New signing Obolo should act as a perfect foil to skilful Juan Manuel Martínez and El Pocho Insúa from Bursaspor will add more creativity to a midfield already containing David Ramírez, Héctor Canteros and Augusto Fernández.  El Fortín have been one of the best teams to watch of late and are a well-run club and should qualify from the group without too much hassle. 

Mexican champions Chivas Guadalajara have a vibrant young squad with the likes of 2005 U17 World Cup winners Patricio Araujo and Omar Esparza in defence, former U20 captain midfield enforcer Jorge Enríquez, attacking prospects Marco Fabián and Man Utd linked Erick Torres and 2011 World Cup winners Carlos Fierro and Giovani Casillas (link).  Two years ago Chivas knocked out Vélez in the round of 16 so their encounter should be an entertaining one. 

Defensor Sporting qualified as runners up in Uruguay and in their last two appearances they made the quarter finals.  Defensor have a good blend of experience and youth, such as Gastón Silva and Diego Rolán, but they might be hard pushed to qualify.  Deportivo Quito qualified as champions of Ecuador and have some good players in midfielder Fidel Martínez and Argentine striker Julio Bevacqua whilst Luis Saritama, Alex Bolaños and Juan Carlos Paredes were all called up to the last National squad.  Despite this I don’t see them getting through the group. Vélez and Chivas to go through

Group 8 (Universidad de Chile, Atlético Nacional, Godoy Cruz, Penarol)
By far the most exciting group in my opinion.  Much has been written about the free flowing football that saw Universidad de Chile romp to their first ever title in December, comprehensively beating Liga de Quito and everyone else in their path.  All eyes will be on la U to see if they can continue their fine form and they will be another of the firm favourites for the title.  In a busy transfer window, they lost goal machine Eduardo Vargas and defender Marcos Gonzalez, but there was some good news when both captain José Rojas’ and forward Gustavo Canales’ protracted moves abroad fell through, whilst Matías Rodríguez also remains in Chile despite interest from San Lorenzo and Benfica.  They have also reinforced with defenders Cereceda and Morante, midfielders Pedro Morales and Raúl Ruidíaz and forwards Junior Fernandes and Emilio Hernández.  This should provide the strength and depth in a good squad containing Mena, Castro, Aránguiz, Díaz and Lorenzetti along with the young prospects of Ángelo Henríquez and Inter target Igor Lichnovsky.  This added depth should see them able to cope with the demands of the Copa Libertadores and they will be one of the favourites. 

Godoy Cruz should provide them with a good test though and the Mendoza outfit have consistently been one of the top sides in Argentina in recent years.  La Tomba are one of the most entertaining sides too as they always score plenty of goals and keeping hitman Rubén Ramírez should ensure a steady flow of goals.  If they can shore up their defence then they could go on a good run. Atlético Nacional won the Colombian Apertura and have a decent squad.  They will be hoping that strikers Carlos Renteria and Dorlan Pabón can get them the goals to send them through but face a tough task in a highly competitive group.  

Finally the last spot went to Peñarol.  Last year’s finalists brushed aside Caracas to qualify for the group stages.  They put four past the Venezuelans with no reply in the first leg and drew the second legs one all, winning the tie 5-1 on aggregate.  The Uruguayan side have plenty of experience with captain Darío Rodríguez and former international keeper Fabián Carini at the back whilst up top is big target man Marcelo Zalayeta.  They have strengthened the squad with Fabián Estoyanoff returning from an unsuccessful spell in Europe and have made two astute loan signings in midfielders Rodrigo Mora and Luis Aguiar.  They also have some decent youngsters from the U17 side, beaten finalists in the Youth World Cup, such as midfielder Elbio Álvarez, forward Juan San Martin and defender Jim Varela.  They will make up a truly thrilling group and Peñarol, with their rich history in the competition, will go toe-to-toe with Godoy Cruz to see who qualifies alongside Universidad de Chile, who must be almost dead-certs to reach the knock out stages