Copa Libertadores 2013 preview pt. II
Following on from part I, comes the second installment guiding you through the remaining four groups. So without further ado here is the low down on Groups 5 through 8…
Group 5: Corinthians (Bra), Millonarios (Col), San Jose (Bol), Tijuana (Mex)
The name that jumps out is reigning champions Corinthians after they won their first ever title last year. Timão followed that up with a World Club Cup win over Chelsea and will be one of the favourites again this time around. They have largely kept hold of their title winning squad with key players like Paulinho opting to remain in Brazil and have also brought in some impressive reinforcements in the shape of Renato Augusto and Alexandre Pato. Should the latter stay fit, he and Paolo Guerrero will be one of the most feared strike forces in the tournament.
Colombian side Millonarios will be confident of progressing too after they broke a 24 year wait to win the league, while also reaching the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana. The return of Fredy Montero from the MLS will be eagerly anticipated and fellow forward Wason Renteria has an eye for goal too. Look out for promising young centre back Pedro Franco who has reportedly been linked with Manchester City.
Mexican champions Tijuana, in their first Libertadores, could be a surprise package however. Having only formed six years ago, they were the unfancied winners of the Liga MX. Flamboyant winger Fidel Martinez had a fantastic Libertadores campaign with Quito and will catch the eye – if just for his Neymar-esque barnet – while Dubier Riascos will be the chief goal threat. Xolos also boast two US internationals in Edgar Castillo and Jose Corona. Finally, Bolivian side San José’s best bet is to make the most of their home games way up in Oruro – 3,710m above sea level – and hope that experienced goal machine Carlos Saucedo is on form.
Group 6: Cerro Porteño (Par), Real Garcilaso (Per), Santa Fe (Col), Dep Tolima (Col)
Paraguayans Cerro Porteño should start as favourites in this tight group. The Apertura champions boast a squad filled with experience as well as some exciting young talent such as Jorge Rojas who has just enjoyed a fine tournament with the U20s. Playmaker Jonny Fabbro – recently courted by River – is the star man and is often well supported by girlfriend Larissa Riquelme in the stands, which will no doubt see the neutral rooting for a long run in the competition.
Colombian duo Santa Fe and Deportes Tolima will probably go head to head for the remaining qualification spot. Their recent head to head records are virtually even and it could well go down to the wire. Santa Fe possess the hatchet man of South American football Gerardo Bedoya who has picked up 41 red cards in his career! For Tolima the onus will be on Paraguayan Rogerio Leichtweis to replace the goals of compatriot Robin Ramirez, now in Mexico, if they are to progress.
Real Garcilaso are another side making their Libertadores bow but the Peruvians will have a task bigger than the nearby Machu Picchu if they are to qualify for the knock out stages.
Group 7: Dep Lara (Ven), Newell’s (Arg), Universidad de Chile (Chi), Olimpia (Par)
Group 7 throws up another fascinating and tough to predict group which will host some tantalising ties. Last year’s semi-finalists Universidad de Chile will be expected to qualify but are not the same force they were in years gone by. La U are still clinging on to Charles Aranguiz and Gustavo Lorenzetti and have talented youngsters such as Sebastian Martinez, Igor Lichnovsky and Valber Huerta waiting in the wings. But with Sampaoli departed for the Chile national team boss will they be the same? Dario Franco seems a good fit but the consistent drain of talent means they are unlikely to better last year’s showing.
The games against Newell’s will be some of the most anticipated by footballing purists as both sides play attractive, high-tempo, possession-based football. Under Gerardo Martino, Newell’s have been transformed from relegation candidates to title contenders and set the early pace before fading away in the latter stages of the Torneo Inicial. Gabriel Heinze and Maxi Rodriguez are the most recognisable names on the team sheet but the star of the show was Ignacio Scocco, joint top scorer in the league, and seems to deal uniquely in absolute pearlers. If they can share out the goals more evenly and not run out of steam they might be dark horses.
Olimpia beat Defensor Sporting of Uruguay to reach the group stage and will be a tough opponent. Central midfielder Richard Ortiz is an up and coming player to look out for and they will hope that Juan Carlos Ferreyra can rediscover his goalscoring touch after his return to the club. Deportivo Lara of Venezuela will struggle against an extremely competitive group and it will be a miracle if they progress.
Group 8: Caracas (Ven), Fluminense (Bra), Huachipato (Chi), Gremio (Bra)
Much like group 3, it is the Brazilians who stand out. Fluminense were deserved champions of Brazil and their consistency means they are likely to be a formidable opponent. They have a solid spine of the team and enough invention to punish opposition. Deco’s creativity and experience will be important and in Fred they have one of the most reliable centre forwards on the continent. The electric Wellington Nem could make a big impression on the tournament while Marcos Junior and Samuel Rosa are other emerging prospects.
Gremio resemble something of a retirement home with the likes of Dida, Fabio Aurelio, Cris, Ze Roberto and Elano all on the books, but a strong third place finish in the league shows that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet. The loan signing of Eduardo Vargas from Napoli could be inspired if he recreates the form he showed for Universidad de Chile and, along with other new signing Hernan Barcos, will take the pressure off Marcelo Moreno as sole goal getter. Young central midfielder Fernando is another worth keeping tabs on.
Chilean side Huachipato make their Copa Libertadores debut but a tough draw sees the odds stacked against them. Chilean expert Joel Sked praises their solidity and it seems most likely that they will try to keep things tight and frustrate their superior opponents. Young deep lying midfielder and captain Lorenzeo Reyes is the one to watch. Venezuelan runners up Caracas will most likely occupy bottom place, especially after selling promising Viking-esque striker Fernando Aristeguieta to Nantes.
So there you have it! With some of the biggest names to grace the competition in recent years and the staple posse of upstarts it promises to be a memorable tournament. All that remains now is to sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster ride to the final in July.