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 By Tim Vickery

Sportivo Luqueno, Santa Fe look to break Argentina's cup dominance

Sportivo Luqueno's players celebrate their Copa Sudamericana quarterfinal win over Paranaense.

Argentina's national team may have been waiting a long time for a senior title, but at club level the country is currently monopolizing the continental titles.

The Copa Libertadores -- the one that matters most -- was won by River Plate this year and San Lorenzo in 2014. The Sudamericana, a Europa League equivalent, went to Lanus in 2013, River Plate last year, and there is the guarantee of an Argentine finalist this time round, with the defending champions meeting Huracan in the semifinals.

Where will the challenge come from? Not from Brazil, whose interest in the competition has already ended.

Instead the other semifinal is between Sportivo Luqueno of Paraguay and Independiente Santa Fe of Colombia -- a clash which has a certain logic.

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Independiente Santa FeIndependiente Santa Fe
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Over the course of the past three years, the era of Argentine domination, most countries in the continent have occasionally got a team into the last eight of one of the competitions. The exceptions are Venezuela, which is perhaps not much of a surprise, and Chile, which will come as a shock to many.

The Chilean league has been widely praised of late, maybe carried along in the slipstream of the success of the national team. The truth is, though, that the results of Chilean sides in the continental club competitions have been very disappointing.

Paraguay and Colombia, meanwhile, have consistently done well. Paraguayan sides have distinguished themselves in the last three versions of the Libertadores. Olimpia were finalists in 2013, Nacional the following year, and this time round Guarani were extremely impressive in reaching the semifinals.

In the Sudamericana, meanwhile, the last two years have seen both Cerro Porteno and Libertad reaching the quarterfinals -- with Luqueno already one round further this year and still standing.

This shows admirable strength in depth, and hints at the great virtue of Paraguayan football. Their teams so often seem to knit together naturally. With a population of under 7 million, and their best players scattered all over the world, the clubs do not have a great deal of individual talent to call upon. But time and time again Paraguayan sides are able to add up to more than the sum of their parts, to punch above their weight with dedication, resilience and teamwork.

At the other end of South America, Colombia is a different story. With a population approaching 50 million, it is the biggest country in the continent with the exception of Brazil. By South American standards it is unusually decentralised, with a number of urban centres -- usually good news for a football culture.

Fernando Meza, right, is one of the most products to come through Santa Fe in recent years.

All of Paraguay's main clubs are clustered around Asuncion, the capital. Colombia can draw its water from a much bigger well.

Even so, in recent times there have been just two Colombian clubs who have carried the fight at continental level. One is Atletico Nacional of Medellin, beaten finalists in last year's Sudamericana, quarterfinalists in 2013 and in last year's Libertadores.

The other is Santa Fe, from Bogota, semifinalists in the 2013 Libertadores, quarterfinalists this year and now back in the last four of the Sudamericana.

Sportivo Luqueno may lack glamorous names or promising youngsters, but the same is not true of Santa Fe, especially in the latter category. The Colombians have a very interesting pair of young centre-backs. Fernando Meza, 22, has already acquired considerable experience and is a member of the Colombia senior squad.

But his partner, Yeryy Mina, 21, may be even better -- a giant figure who excels at winning important defensive headers. A few years older, left footed support striker Luis Quinones is a rough diamond with time to turn into something even more brilliant.

Will this individual quality prevail in the semifinal of the Sudamericana, or will the collective game of Sportivo Luqueno carry the day? It is a fascinating question as Paraguay and Colombia vie to challenge an Argentine club for the title.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

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