Brazilian & Argentinian clubs to dominate again

Brazilian & Argentinian clubs to dominate again

The 2021 tournament was special. We saw a covid struck River Plate win with an outfielder in goal, one particular group stage produced 104 goals and Palmeiras defied the odds to be the first club to win back-to-back trophies since 2001.

How can this year’s be topped, you ask? With fans, that’s how.

After a 2021 campaign which only saw a handful of fans return in the final rounds, it’s going to be a pleasure to welcome fans back to the stands across the continent for the 2022 edition of the Copa Libertadores.

We all know fans make football what it is and South America has some of the most passionate fanbases in the world. This, alongside factors including high altitude and bobbly surfaces means clubs with the biggest budgets in the tournament can often fall short when away from their home comforts.

Bolivian teams are a nightmare to play against. Last campaign The Strongest defeated semi-finalists Barcelona and 2020 finalists Santos on home soil. Always Ready beat Brazilian outfit Internacional, whose budget is at least ten-fold in comparison.

The same can be said for Venezuelan side Deportivo Tachira, who also beat Internacional at home during last year’s group campaign. This is where we can find an edge in the betting market over the coming weeks and months, but ultimately, over time, quality often prevails.

An all Brazilian final last year demonstrates exactly that. We saw five Brazilian sides line up in the quarter-finals, alongside the ever present River Plate, who often fly the flag for Argentina in this competition.

Can Palmeiras create more history and win a third straight Copa Libertadores – the first club to achieve this since Independiente in 1974 – or will we see a new name engraved on the trophy in Ecuador?

The market

Beaten finalists Flamengo are your clear market favourites at 4.57/2, with Atletico Minerio 5.59/2 and Palmeiras 6.511/2 following.

River Plate lead the market for the Argentinians priced at 7.06/1, whereas their bitter rivals Boca Juniors are 11.010/1 to be crowned champions in Ecuador.

Bolivian debutants Independiente Petrolero are a massive 501.0500/1 to achieve the impossible, although Velez Sarsfield may give you a better run for your money at 26.025/1, if you like a longshot.

Let’s take a closer look at the group stages.

Group A: Palmeiras can progress

palmeiras celebrating 1280.jpg

Group A
Palmeiras 2021: Winners
Emelec First appearance since 2019
Deportivo Tachira 2021: Knocked out in group stages
Independiente Petrolero Debut appearance

The current Champions could not have had a kinder draw. Despite away trips to Bolivian debutants Independiente Petrolero and Venezuelan outfit Deportivo Tachira, both presenting a potential banana skin, Palmeiras have too much quality for their opponents. Three very likely home wins should be more than enough to see them progress to the knockout stages.

Palmeiras haven’t added too many players since lifting the trophy last year, but the addition of 21-year-old Rafael Navarro from Botafogo has added that extra level of quality and protection in front of their backline.

Who will qualify with them? At present, it certainly seems to be a lottery and goal difference is likely to play an important role between the remaining three sides. Deportivo Tachira’s recent experience in this tournament might just see them spring a surprise over Emelec for second spot. However, the unknown quantity of Independiente Petrolero adds an exciting edge to Group A.

Group B: Athletico-PR to come out on top

athletico pr.jpg

Group B
Athletico-PR 2021: Copa Sudamericana winners
Libertad 2021: Qualifying round
Caracas 2021: Qualifying round
The Strongest 2021: Group stage

Last year’s Copa Sudamericana winners Athletico PR will be looking to stamp their authority in Group B against rather weak opposition. Both Libertad and Caracas failed to reach the group stage last year, and although they’ve managed to achieve that this time round, both sides shouldn’t be troubling a Brazilian side full of quality.

The Brazilians held Palmeiras to a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana before falling to a 2-0 defeat in the away leg. This shows they can compete at this level and, with an array of young transfers snapped up in recent months, they’re a club certainly on the up.

Caracas, on the other hand, have accumulated just six points from five league appearances to date, scoring four goals.

They may well be vulnerable to Libertad, who currently sit top of the Paraguayan league, conceding just three goals in seven matches and are currently enjoying an 11 match unbeaten run.

Last year was the first time the Paraguayan giants had failed to reach the group stage for some time, and with a weak looking Caracas side and The Strongest, who simply can’t perform outside of Bolivia, Pedro Sarabia’s side are presented with a golden opportunity to progress.

Group C: Velez to spring a surprise

Velez Flamengo.jpg

Group C
Velez Sarsfield 2021: Final 16
Nacional 2021: Group stages
Bragantino Debut appearance
Estudiantes First appearance since 2018

Velez Sarsfield were unfortunate to draw Barcelona in the first knockout round last year, and despite winning the first leg, the eventual semi-finalists prevailed 3-1 in the second leg.

Both of these sides were my longshots for success in 2021 and unfortunately drew each other. However, Velez Sarsfield held Flamengo away from home in the group stage and secured convincing victories over LDU Quito and Union La Calera which have slightly gone under the radar.

Admittedly their domestic campaign hasn’t been a huge success in the early stages, but the additions of Caseres Santiago from Villarreal and Jose Bobadilla from Guarani should serve them well in this group.

While Velez’s domestic campaign hasn’t begun well, Estudiantes return to the Copa Libertadores currently sitting in first place in their domestic league after seven matches, level on 14 points with Boca Juniors. Velez and Estudiantes met at the beginning of March, drawing 1-1, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see who gets the upper hand when they meet next week.

Red Bull owned Bragantino will be a team to follow closely in the opening weeks, as their rise from Serie B to Serie A has caught the eye. The demand for success within the club is clear to see and a top two finish has to be on the cards within a group of this quality. A watching brief is in order for their opening fixtures.

Group D: Mineiro want the title

AtleticoMGHulk.jpg

Group D
Atletico Mineiro 2021: Semi-finalists
America MG Debut appearance
Deportes Tolima First appearance since 2020
Independiente del Valle 2021: Group stage

This is a very exciting group, although IDV will be devastated to be in another tough one after last year’s harsh draw.

Despite Diego Costa leaving Atletico Mineiro after their disappointing semi-final defeat, the Brazilian side went on to win the league and domestic cup. Antonio Mohamed has assembled a quality side capable of punishing any team on their day.

Their aim is to win the Copa Libertadores this campaign and the market reflects that, currently 5.59/2 second favourites. Expect Mineiro to qualify with ease.

Deportes Tolima return to the competition after missing out on the 2021 edition. However, despite nothing being guaranteed in football, it’s hard for the other three sides to not look at the Colombians and believe that maximum points will definitely be on offer.

Group E: Always Ready to keep things exciting

Always Ready Copa.jpg

Group E
Boca Juniors 2021: Last 16
Corinthians First appearance since 2020
Deportivo Cali First appearance since 2016
Always Ready 2021: Group stage

This group looks a straight shoot out between Boca Juniors and Corinthians for first spot. Both of these sides are far superior to Deportivo Cali, who have qualified for the group stages for the first time in six years.

However, where this group gets interesting is the introduction of Always Ready. The Bolivian outfit defeated Brazilian giants Internacional and Deportivo Tachira 2-0 on home soil, due to their home matches being played 3000m above sea level.

Boca Juniors managed a hard fought 0-0 draw away to The Strongest last campaign, before easily dispatching them 3-0 at home. However, who finishes top could come down to whether Boca or Corinthians can salvage points on their travels in this group.

Deportivo Cali look destined to finish bottom.

Group F: Debutants can reach the knockout stage

River Plate fans 2018.jpg

Group F
River Plate 2021: Quarter finals
Colo Colo First appearance since 2020
Alianza Lima First appearance since 2020
Fortaleza Debut appearance

River Plate endured a tough campaign last year, due to a severe outbreak of covid within their squad. However, it also created a memorable moment for the Argentinians, who defeated Junior 2-1 at home when Enzo Perez had to play in goal after all four of River’s keepers were sidelined with the illness.

They’ve been blessed with a relatively easy group, with both Alianza Lima and Colo Colo struggling to compete at this level over the years. In fact, you have to go back 24 Copa Libertadores matches to find the last time the Peruvian club mustered a win, losing 19 of those along the way.

Fortaleza make their debut this year, and it’ll be interesting to see how they compete against River Plate, but ultimately it’ll be down to the Brazilians’ performances against Colo Colo and Lima if they are to progress to the last 16.

Fortaleza haven’t been shy in the transfer market, with their new striker Renato Kayser from Athletico PR one of their standout signings.

Group G: Wide open contest

olimpia.png

Group G
Penarol First appearance since 2020
Cerro Porteno 2021: Group stages
Colon First appearance since 2010
Olimpia 2021: Quarter finals

This is arguably one of my favourite groups. It’s not the most glamorous, but with no market favourite in sight, each and every side will be relishing the chance to secure a round of 16 place.

Olimpia overachieved last season when reaching the quarter-finals, and their 9-2 aggregate loss to Flamengo reflected that. However, the Paraguayans came back from a 3-1 first leg defeat to Fluminense to win 3-0 at home and qualify for the group stage once again.

Colon haven’t featured in this competition for over a decade, but Julio Cesar Falcioni has put together a side which have very much earned their spot. Having held Boca Juniors in their domestic league, Colon currently sit in fourth place, just two points behind Boca.

Despite a long absence, expect Falcioni to have his troops prepared and with both Mauro Boselli and Leondro Diaz firing in the league, there’s every chance the wait has been worth it for the Argentinian club.

Group H: Light work for 2021 finalists

Flamengo Bruno Henrique 1280.jpg

Group H
Flamengo 2021: Finalists
Sporting Cristal 2021: Group stages
Universidad Catolica 2021: Group stages
Tallares Cordoba First appearance since 2019

Flamengo will be itching to rectify from their mistakes in last year’s final and the current favourites this time round will look to wrap up their group as quickly as possibly, to rest key players before the knockout stages.

I still feel Flamengo had an easy run to the final – facing previous Sudamericana winners Defensa y Justicia, Paraguay’s Olimpia and Ecuador’s Barcelona en route to the final – but 18 goals in those six matches proved they were worthy finalists.

Gabriel Barbosa finished as the overall top scorer with 11 goals as well as contributing four assists, while Bruno Henrique also scored key goals, chipping in with six on the way to the final.

No one in their group can touch Flamengo and, having kept their squad together and added Manchester United’s Andreas Pereira, they will see anything less than another final appearance as a major disappointment.

Flamengo, alongside Atletico Mineiro, have the strongest squad in the tournament and it’s going to be a joy to watch the Brazilian outfit dominate this group and send out a huge statement to the rest of the teams.