Copa Sudamericana 2012: Can Ecuadorians emulate Liga?

(Article first featured on Lovely Left Foot)

Question: In which competition can you see both Liverpool and Barcelona this season? Answer: the Copa Sudamericana.  Yes, it may well be their Uruguayan and Ecuadorian counterparts but nevertheless South American’s second biggest continental competition is already underway and as ever bound to be packed full of excitement.

The competition, now in its 10th year, began back at the tail end of July with four sides each from Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela battling it out in the 1st round.  They were joined in the 2nd round by 6 sides from Argentina and 8 from Brazil who went head to head, whittling them down to 3 and 4 teams apiece.  Now at the Round of 16 stage the true competition is beginning to take form as the remaining participants fight for a place in the final come mid-December.

The aforementioned Barcelona Sporting Club from Guayaquil are just one of the entire complement of Ecuadorian sides still left in the competition, making them (along with Brazil) the most represented nation in the tournament.  Considering they have half the berths and have played twice as many games to reach this stage it marks a minor achievement of sorts.

Ecuador has pedigree in the tournament too.  After becoming the first Ecuadorian side to win the Libertadores in 2008, Liga de Quito went on to win the Sudamericana in 2009, were semi-finalists in 2010 and runners up last year.  Liga don’t feature this time around but Emelec, Deportivo Quito, LDU Loja and Barcelona will be hoping they can keep up the recent tradition of strong Ecuadorian performances.

They will, however, have to overcome what looks to be a tricky draw.  Barcelona and LDU Loja have both been pitted against Brazilian giants Gremio and Sao Paulo while Emelec face reigning champions Universidad de Chile and Deportivo Quito are up against Clausura runners up Tigre of Argentina.

Having disposed of Deportivo Tachira and Cobreloa so far – the latter in a seven goal thriller – Barcelona have their hands full against Gremio.  They possess a decent squad with Argentine duo Martin Oyola and Damian Diaz in midfield alongside the likes of Michael Arroyo and wonderfully named Michael Jackson Quinonez but after losing the first leg 1-0 need a result in Porto Alegre. Gremio, currently sitting in third in the Brasileirão, are not short of big names.  The experienced Tricolor squad contains familiar faces such as Elano, Gilberto Silva and Ze Roberto, while up front they also have ex-Wigan striker Marcelo Moreno, who got the vital late away goal against Coritiba that put them through.  A tall order away from home but a one goal deficit gives them a fighting chance.

In their first international tournament, LDU Loja go head to head against one of the favourites of the tournament; Sao Paulo.  The Brazilians boast one of the fiercest forward lines in the tournament with Luis Fabiano, PSG-bound Lucas Moura and exciting teen starlet Ademilson. If that wasn’t enough they’ve recently been joined by Ganso who though currently injured has just joined from Santos and will form an equally formidable partnership with Casemiro and Jadson in midfield.  Loja will be hoping that their very own Brazilian Fabio Renato, who has five goals in the tournament already, will cause an unlikely upset against his compatriots.  A 1-1 draw in the first leg will give La Garra del Oso (The Bear Claw) a great for an upset in the return fixture.

Best positioned of all the Ecuadorian sides is Deportivo Quito, who lead Tigre 2-0 after the first match.  Despite some shocking domestic form – they currently sit bottom of the table on four points from nine games and are yet to win – they are meeting a Tigre side who are a shadow of the team that staged a great escape to beat relegation and simultaneously almost won the Clausura.  Having also not registered a league win this term, they have been hit hard by the loss of key players Carlos Luna, Roman Martinez and Diego Cachete Morales.  Quito have also lost personnel after Fidel Martinez moved to Tijuana but with Julio Bevacqua in good form and the likes of Saritima and Bolanos in midfield they should make it through.

Emelec are up against the side that Deportivo Quito almost knocked out of the Libertadores; Universidad de Chile.  La U steamrollered their way to the title twelve months ago in breath-taking style, scoring and only conceding two, capturing the attention of many around the globe.  They followed this with a fine run to the semi-finals of the Libertadores as well as the domestic double.  On paper there may seem to be only one logical outcome but La U’s success has been costly with many of that Sudamericana-winning squad now departed, particularly Marcelo Diaz, and they don’t quite look the same for it.

If there is a good time to play La U, then perhaps this is it.  At the time of writing Sampaoli’s men are on a winless streak of five games and sit third in the Chilean league. Below par for a side like La U. Meanwhile Emelec are doing well in the league and have looked defensively solid in their Sudamericana games so far, conceding just one in four games.  A youthful side with prospects such as Fernando Gaibor, Marlon de Jesus and Eddy Corozo, while up front Argentine pair Luciano Figueroa and Marcos Mondiani will pose a threat.  It’ll be a big ask against La U but in the Chileans first games of the competition, Emelec could catch them cold.

Of the other ties in the round, Cerro Porteño versus Colón looks to be one of the most intriguing.  The sole remaining Paraguayan side have plenty of goals in them with the likes of Santiago Salcedo, Roberto Nanni and recently nationalised Johnny Fabbro (below).  They come up against the strongest looking of the Argentine sides Colon with talented young playmaker Lucas Mugni one to watch.

Argentina’s other representative, Independiente, leads Uruguayan side Liverpool 2-1 after the first leg.  Independiente have been shocking in the league so far this season but have enough good players capable of going on a cup run. A late goal from the impressive Carlos Nuñez will ensure a tight second leg game in Montevideo.

Universidad Catolica will fancy their chances against Atletico GO – bottom of the Brazilian league – despite losing talisman Felipe Gutierrez and right back to Stefano Magnasco to the Eredivisie and Colombian league leaders Millonarios will hope they do better against Palmeiras (another Brazilian struggling for domestic form) than they did against Real Madrid last week.  If they can shackle Hernan Barcos, who recently received a call up to the Argentine national side, they might stand a chance of progressing but will nevertheless start as underdogs.

It remains a distinct possibility that all fourEcuadorian sides could well go out given their tough draw but if they all remain in with a shout and could cause some upsets.  Though Universidad de Chile and Sao Paulo are among the favourites to lift the trophy in December, anything can happen and, although unlikely, we may well see an Ecuadorian side follow in the footsteps of Liga de Quito.