Published on August 5th, 2018 | by Peter Coates0
Copa Libertadores returns with drama-fueled Last 16
The Copa Libertadores this week with South America’s biggest beasts going head to head including an all-Argentinean affair – Peter Coates takes us through the ties
There is simply no tournament in world football quite like the Copa Libertadores. From the grueling long journeys, the passionate supporters, the occasional dog on the pitch and some of the biggest clubs on the planet.
This year is no different in that regard but where some of South America’s relative minnows have reached the latter stages in recent editions, 2018 is a clash of the titans.
Specifically a clash of Brazil versus Argentina – six clubs from each country make up 12 of the last 16 and only Libertad, Cerro Porteño and Atlético Tucumán haven’t got their hands on the famous trophy before.
Any path to potentially lifting the Libertadores is a tough one and here are the first tasks for the 16 remaining candidates.
Boca Juniors v Libertad
Boca may have done just enough to qualify from their group, just as they did to win the Superliga, but there is no doubting that Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side warrant their billing among the favourites.
A summary of Boca’s transfer window:
In my opinion, this has been one of the better transfer windows in recent time. This administration is really pushing for the Libertadores title.
— Boca in English 🏆🏆 (@CABJ_English) August 3, 2018
An already stacked squad has managed to hold onto stars like Cristian Pavón, has players like Darío Benedetto coming back from injury and added talents like Mauro Zárate leaving Boca with a formidable starting eleven.
Paraguayan club Libertad topped their group and were outstanding in Asunción so Boca cannot afford a slow start to the season after their winter break.
Flamengo v Cruzeiro
The last 16’s all-Brazilian clash pits Rio’s Flamengo against Belo Horizonte’s Cruzeiro and a potential quarter-final against either Boca or Libertad is on the line.
Cruzeiro topped Group E thanks largely to putting seven past Universidad de Chile and therefore nipping ahead of Racing on goal difference but in Thiago Neves and Uruguayan Giorgian De Arrascaeta, the Raposa boast two of the best attacking talents.
Flamengo came in second behind River Plate and have obviously lost Vinícius Júnior to Real Madrid but have added fresh talent and Man City loanee Marlos Moreno will be eager to impress.
Cerro Porteño v Palmeiras
One of the favourites after easily topping the group with Boca Juniors, Palmeiras face Cerro Porteño and as such the Brazilians will be heavy favourites. However, since then, manager Roger Machado has been fired and Palmeiras have turned to Luiz Felipe Scolari for a third time.
Brazilians have an advantage that their calendar has kept them active going back into the tournament but will Palmeiras need time to adapt back into life under big Phil? Paraguayan champions Cerro Porteño will certainly hope and are unbeaten in Asunción so far.
Colo-Colo v Corinthians
Corinthians finished top of Group G, ahead of Independiente and while they weren’t particularly impressive in doing so, they remain dangerous. Angel Romero is in an incredible patch of form and Paraguayan youngster Sergio Díaz has arrived on loan from Real Madrid.
The Brazilians will be firm favourites against a Colo-Colo side that snuck through on goal difference and are currently fifth in the Chilean Primera.
Atlético Tucumán v Atlético Nacional
Atlético Nacional have made history just getting here but will need to pull off another huge upset to shock 2016 champions Atlético Nacional.
The Colombians are no where near as strong as they were two years ago and will face a test when they travel to the electric atmosphere in Tucumán but will be confident of progressing.
Estudiantes v Grêmio
Defending champions Grêmio have the best defensive record in the competition and remain unbeaten so against an Estudiantes side, who fumbled their way through on goal difference with a final day win over Nacional, the Tricolor will be overwhelming favourites.
The elegant Arthur may have left for Barcelona but in Luan, Grêmio have one of the best talents in South America and they should prove too much for a very average Estudiantes.
Independiente v Santos
Three-time champions Santos against the most successful club in the tournament’s history, Independiente is a heavyweight clash steeped in history.
Santos topped their group without looking particularly good and have since struggled domestically prompting a return for Libertadores winning coach Cuca and a strong window of recruitment.
— Independiente in Eng (@CAI_english) July 28, 2018
Independiente have also brought players in and while El Rojo struggled for goals during the first part of 2018, the astute Ariel Holan will be hoping his newly bolstered squad is far better prepared for an assault on the competition.
Racing Club v River Plate
And finally the big all-Argentinian clásico between River Plate and Racing Club. The draw always promised one with River the only Argentinian club to top their group and while a Superclásico was avoided, a clash with Racing promises fireworks.
River’s improvement in 2018 has been noticeable and in a fit and motivated Juan Fernando Quintero, Los Millonarios have one of the game’s great playmakers while Racing’s fortunes took a swift upturn after the appointment of Eduardo Coudet. Leading scorer Lautaro Martínez has departed for Inter but club icon Gustavo Bou is back looking to fire La Academia to glory.