Copa Libertadores 2014 Preview Pt. II


Following on from part 1, comes the second installment of Mala Leche & Outside of the Boot’s guide to the remaining four groups in this year’s edition of the Copa Libertadores.  So without further ado, here is the low down on Groups 5 through 8…

everton ribeiro

Group 5: Cruzeiro (Bra), Defensor Sporting (Uru), Real Garcilaso (Per), Universidad de Chile (Chi)

Brazilian champions Cruzeiro must be considered one of the favourites after a dominant performance in last year’s Brasileirao, waltzing to the title playing some fast-paced, modern attacking football.  In Dede, their marquee signing, they have arguably the best defender in South America but it is going forward where their quality really shines through.  The likes of Dagoberto and Julio Baptista will be familiar names to most, while Everton Ribeiro was the revelation of 2013 and was rumoured to be wanted by Manchester Utd.

A Raposa can also count on the experience up front with Borges, Ernesto ‘Tecla’ Farias and Marcelo Moreno on their books too.  Though Vinicius Araujo has moved to Valencia, they still have some exciting prospects such as Ricardo Goulart and Lucas Silva.  After arch rivals Atletico Mineiro triumphed last year, Cruzeiro will be desperate to repeat their neighbour’s accomplishment and ensure the Copa remains in Belo Horizonte.

Uruguayan runners up Defensor Sporting could prove to be an interesting proposition in what is shaping up to be a very watchable group.  El Violeta’s squad is absolutely packed with youngsters, many of whom have represented the national team at various levels. Defender Gaston Silva captained Uruguay at the U20 World Cup last summer and Federico Gino, Leonardo Pais and the talented Giorgian De Arrascaeta were all staples in the same Charrua midfield, while Ramon Arias and Adrian Luna appeared in the 2011 edition.  Furthermore, Matias Jones returns to Uruguay after failing to make the grade in the Netherlands and Brazilian midfielder Felipe Gedoz da Conceicao is another to keep an eye out for.  Inexperience could count against them but there are some old heads among the kids with Fleurquin, Olivera, Reguiero and Risso giving a nice balance.

Surprise package of last tournament, Real Garcilaso defied the odds to reach the quarter-finals – the best performance by a Peruvian side in the last decade – and they should be taken more seriously this time around.  Only formed in 2009, Fredy Garcia’s upstarts have provided a fresh approach in a country whose domestic league is hamstrung by debt and corruption. Paraguayan duo Fabio Ramos and Victor Ferreira are key players for La Maquina Celeste and despite being in a difficult group, write them off at your peril.

Universidad de Chile qualified by disposing of Paraguayan side Guarani, a victory which made them the first Chilean team to win in every country in the continent.  Despite not being like the swashbuckling side that won the Sudamericana in 2011 and reached the 2012 Libertadores semi-finals, La U will be desperate to make amends for crashing out at the group stage last year.  New coach Cristian Romero is hoping to bring the feel good factor back and return to the style that brought them so much success under Sampaoli.

Goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera and defensive stalwarts Osvaldo Gonzalez and Jose Manuel Rojas remain but Chilean football doyen Joel Sked doubts La U will serious threaten the latter stages of the tournament due to the ongoing failure to replace metronome Marcelo Diaz, the loss of ‘el Principe’ Charles Aranguiz and a diminished penetration from the wings.  Nevertheless, el Chuncho can still count on the likes of Gustavo Lorenzetti and Ramon Fernandez for some inspiration and in Isaac ‘Toro’ Diaz, Patricio Rubio, Rodrigo Mora and Sebastian Ubilla have options going forward.  Romero’s appointment means youth, such as U20 internationals Igor Lichnovsky, Sebastian Martinez and Valber Huerta, will be given a chance too.

banega presented to Newell's fans

Group 6: Newell’s (Arg), Gremio (Bra), Atletico Nacional (Col), Nacional (Uru)

The dreaded ‘Group of Death’ will be one of the most highly anticipated in the competition and those teams emerging unscathed will fancy their chances of a decent cup run.  First and foremost among them will be last year’s semi-finalists Newell’s Old Boys, who also won the Torneo Final under the guidance of Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino before he took the reins at Barcelona.  Though not quite the same force during the recent Torneo Inicial – largely due to the loss of Ignacio Scocco’s goals – they still challenged for the title right up until the final round of fixtures and have a largely similar squad.  Experienced veterans Maxi Rodriguez, Gabriel Heinze and David Trezeguet bring bags of knowhow and have been joined by the signing of the January transfer window, Ever Banega on loan from Valencia.  Expect them to continue their attractive possession-based football but one overriding concern is the lack of firepower up front, especially were Trezeguet to get injured.

Brazilian giants Gremio qualify as Brasileirão runners up and represent another formidable opponent.  The two-time winners have parted ways with Dida, Alex Telles and Elano but the likes of Rhodolfo, Fabio Aurelio and Ze Roberto remain.  Their success has been based on a solid defence, the second best in the league last year, but o Imortal will need address a lack of goals.  Pirate lookalike Hernan Barcos will be the target man to spearhead the attack and there will be also high hopes for young Argentinian playmaker Alan Ruiz, on loan from San Lorenzo, to fill Elano’s boots.

Atletico Nacional had a fantastic 2013, winning the Apertura, Clausura and the Copa Colombia, and many have tipped them for a good Libertadores campaign.  Talented manager Juan Carlos Osorio, a former assistant at Manchester City, has a talented squad at his disposal and despite being handed such a tough draw, will be confident of progressing.  Unlike some of their rivals, they have plenty of options up front, from Aston Villa legend Juan Pablo Angel to the likes of Fernando Uribe, Jefferson Duque and incoming Sebastian Trellez.  Sherman Cardenas has borne the brunt of the Verdolagas creativity responsibility, especially since Macnelly Torres’ move to Al Shabab, but the arrival of Edwin Cardona will share that burden.  As ever, there are also promising youngsters in the form of Wilder Guisao and U20 internationals Juan Pablo Nieto and Sebastian Perez, the latter once a target of Arsenal.  If they are anything as entertaining as their 2012 incarnation, they will quickly become neutrals’ favourite.

Uruguayans Nacional made the Round of 16 last time around but, for all their history in the competition, will face a real battle to get out of the group. They prevailed against Oriente Petrolero in the first round but will have to significantly improve if they are to progress further. The mercurial Alvaro Recoba is still going and el Bolso will look to him to provide the ammunition for Ivan Alonso and Richard Porta.  There are also a number of players with a point to prove, notably Sebastian Coates on loan from Liverpool and Santiago ‘Morro’ Garcia looking to kick start once-promising careers.  Meanwhile, the signing of Rinaldo Cruzado – impressive for Newell’s – is a canny addition and as ever there is a youthful flavour in the form of Renato Cesar, Juan Mascia, Maxi Calzada and Carlos de la Pena, all of whom could make an impression.

rafa marquez

Group 7: Flamengo (Bra), Emelec (Ecu), Leon (Mex), Bolivar (Bol)

Despite having a miserable campaign last year, Flamengo qualify thanks to their Copa do Brasil triumph. A tricky group, not least for some long journeys and games at altitude, the Rubronegro have made some smart additions and look in decent shape.  Ecuadorian centre back Frickson Erazo will slot into the defence, while Elano and Lucas Mugni – rescued from the shambles at Colon – will add some class and guile to the midfield and be given the freedom to roam thanks to the protective shield of Caceres, Luiz Antonio and Muralha.  Up front top scorer Hernane is joined by Alecsandro, a veritable Libertadores good luck charm having won the tournament with Atletico Mineiro and Vasco, while Negueba will provide an injection of pace.  Adryan has gone to Cagliari so Mattheus, son of Bebeto, will have the wonderkid tag all to himself.  If they can keep their home form solid, they should progress.

Ecuadorian Serie A Champions Emelec will set up a rematch of the dramatic 2012 group with Flamengo in which a last gasp winner against Olimpia knocked the Brazilians out of the tournament. Although they lost Enner Valencia, voted best Ecuadorian player of 2013, to Pachuca they still have an interesting young side that could do well.  Fernando Gaibor, Eddy Corozo and Marcos Caicedo are all exciting talents, while it will be intriguing to see Miller Bolanos after his return from the MLS.  Their strike force though will comprise of Argentinian duo Marcos Mondiani and Denis Stracqualursi, once of brief Everton fame, to fire them into the next round.

One of two Mexican teams to feature in the Libertadores this year, Leon won the Liga MX Apertura and will provide a tough test for any team making the journey to Guanajato. Captained by the legendary Rafa Marquez, they also have Mauro Boselli who has rediscovered his form after a dreadful spell for Wigan.  In midfield Carlos Pena, rated by Mexican expert Tom Marshall as “one of the most exciting players in the Liga MX”, will be another vital member of the squad and in goalkeeper William Yarbrough they also boast perhaps the best name in the competition.

2013 Bolivian Clausura champions Bolivar will be tricky opponents as they look to emulate their good performance in 2012 when they reached the knock out stages only to go out to a Neymar-inspired Santos. Taking advantage of their 3,637m high home fixtures will, as ever, be key but their squad has enough quality to challenge on their travels too.  Forwards Juan Carlos Arce and William Ferreira will aim to translate their devastating domestic form, while their trio of Spaniards all bring invaluable experience.  Furthermore, there are some up-and-coming players in midfielders Rudy Cardozo and Jaime Arrascaita as well as goalkeeper Romel Quinonez, all of whom have represented the national team.  Not many teams will relish their Estadio Hernando Siles and the Bolivians could cause an upset or two.

Oribe Peralta

Group 8: Peñarol (Uru), Arsenal (Arg), Santos Laguna (Mex), Deportivo Anzoategui (Ven)

Since finishing as runners up in 2011, Uruguayan Primera division champions Peñarol have not make it out of the group stage in the last two attempts but will back themselves to avoid a third successive early exit.  The five-time winners have an experienced squad with veterans such as Marcelo Zalayeta, Fabio Estoyanoff and Dario Rodriguez, while Luis Aguiar, Sebastian Pirez and new signing Paolo Hurtado will be important players in the Manyas midifield. Up front, Carlos Nunez is a talented forward but needs to rediscover his form quickly and 20-year-old Jonathan Rodriguez is arguably their most exciting attacking prospect.  Unlikely to go too far in the tournament, they will harbour legitimate expectations of making the round of 16 though.

Unfashionable Arsenal de Sarandi make their third consecutive Libertadores appearance thanks to their Copa Argentina win.  Solid and hard to beat, Gustavo Alfaro’s charges have overachieved in recent years but have lost some key players in the last 12 months.  They have hung onto the likes of Campestrini and full backs Perez and Nervo though and have made some smart additions during the transfer window.  Franco Zuculini is the biggest of the names while Federico Freire, Matias Sanchez and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez will all strengthen the squad.  The injury to talented midfielder Nicolas Aguirre is a blow while lack of true quality striker will curtail any ambitions of an extended run in the cup.  Nevertheless, with a kinder draw than the last two years, they are certainly capable of progressing from the group.

Santos Laguna look the most impressive of the two Mexican sides and will ensure it is a tight battle at the top of the group. Veteran goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez captains a los Guerreros side which boasts the deadly strike partnership of Mexican international Oribe Peralta and Colombian Darwin Quintero.  Should the two continue their good form, it could prove to give Santos that extra edge. Elsewhere, combative midfielder Ribair Rodriguez joins from Boca and former Celtic player Marc Crosas is also the Laguneros’ books, while Nestor Araujo and Alonso Escoboza are good young talents on the peripheries of the national team.

Finally, Venezuelan minnows Deportivo Anzoategui qualified for their first ever Libertadores appearance by finishing 2nd in the league but will go no further than the group stage. Panamanian duo Rolando Escobar and Edwin Aguilar will be the reference points of the Aurirojos and keep an eye out for 18-year-old striker Jaime Moreno who has broken through and scored six times this season.