• Friday, 20 April 2012

    Copa Libertadores heads to the knockout rounds

    While Europe was in the grip of the Champions League semi-finals this week, South America's premier club competition finally reached the end of it's tortuous group stage.

    Four of the eight groups were settled quite early on  with two teams dominating throughout. Fluminense and Boca Juniors dominated Group 4 with Flu only losing in gameweek five, to Boca. The Argentine champions had a slow start with a draw against Zamora in Venezuela and a loss to Flu, but then won their final four games to secure second place behind the Brazilians. Back-to-back wins over Arsenal de Sarandi in the middle two weeks made all the difference both to Arsenal and to Boca. Zamora's only point came from that first game.

    Libertad and Vasco da Gama dominated Group 5 in similar fashion ahead of Nacional and Alianza Lima and Group 6 was even more divided with Nacional Ascunsión and Deportivo Táchira only mustering one win between them. Corinthians and Cruz Azul progressed unruffled. And in Group 8 Universidad de Chile picked up their Copa Sudamericana-winning form to top the group from Atlético Nacional. Godoy Cruz and Peñarol won a game each.

    The big drama came in Group 1 where Flamengo were dumped out in dramatic fashion. Lanús had secured top spot before the final round of matches, but the other three were all in with a shout. Fla had to win - they did, 3-0 against Lanús - to have a hope. Emelec and Olimpia were tied at 2-2 when the final whistle went at the Engenhão, but in stoppage time in Ascunsión, José Quinonez grabbed a winner for Emelec that sent them through instead. Ronaldinho's team were out.

    Bolívar had to win on the final day of Group 3 to join Unión Española in the knockout stages and they did, 3-0 over Universidad Catolica. That rendered Junior's win over Unión academic. Vélez Sarsfield dominated Group 7 with a battle on between Deportivo Quito and Defensor Sporting to join them. Fortunately for Depor, they were playing group whipping boys Guadalajara on the final day and duly whipped them 5-0 which meant Defensor's win over Vélez counted for nothing.

    Santos walked Group 1 and were joined by Internacional after a nervy final round. Needing a win to be certain of qualifying, Inter lose 1-0 in Peru to Juan Aurich. Fortunately for them, Santos did them a favour by beating Bolivians The Strongest in São Paulo by two goals to nil. Inter snuck through by a point.

    And so to knockout football where no Uruguayan side appears for what feels like the first time in ages.

    Corinthians take on Emelec where the altitude of Quito could be vital. Both sides will be looking for big home wins, Emelec to take advantage of the altitude and Corinthians to negate it's effect.
    Fluminense and Internacional meet in an all-Brazilian tie whiole Brazilian champions Santos have to take on Bolívar and La Paz's rarefied atmosphere. Universidad de Chile, probably the most exciting team in world football at the moment, drew Deportivo Quito while Libertad have the long trip to Mexico to take on Cruz Azul. Boca Juniors play Unión Española, Lanús take on the might of Vasco da Gama and Atlético Nacional, Colombia's only representative in the last 16 with an attack led by group stage top-scorer Dorlan Pabón, will play Vélez Sarsfield.

    The knockout round starts on March 30 and, as ever, it should be cracking.

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