Copa Libertadores draw has pulses racing, set for a Brazil vs. Argentina club final
While most of the global football attention is already concentrating on the World Cup, many in South America are still firmly focused on the club game -- especially after Monday night's draw of the knockout round of the Copa Libertadores, the continent's equivalent of the Champions League.
A list of the clubs left in the fight reads like a "Who's Who" of the history of South American football. Of the last 16, only three have never won the title and this stage of the draw pits the eight group winners against the eight runners up.
With the Brazilian clubs mostly finishing first, and the Argentine clubs mostly finishing second, there could have been as many as six confrontations between sides from the two big powers. By a quirk of the draw there are just two: the round is completed by one all-Argentine clash; one all-Brazilian; one each of Brazilian opposition against teams from Chile and Paraguay; and one each pitting Argentine clubs against rivals from Paraguay and Colombia.
The draw has also outlined the future clashes all the way to the two legged final at the end of November. And, once again, it has managed to separate the teams from the big two. One half contains five Argentines and two Brazilians, the other has four Brazilians and just one Argentine. So is a Brazil vs. Argentina final on the cards?
It happened last year, when Gremio beat Lanus to be crowned continental champions, but the Libertadores contains a healthy dose of unpredictability. The previous year's decider was between Colombia's Atletico Nacional and little Independiente del Valle of Ecuador, who eliminated plenty of giants along the way before falling at the final hurdle.
So it would be unwise to take too much for granted. The presidents of two historical rivals appeared to be doing just that after the draw.
If Corinthians beat Colo Colo of Chile and Palmeiras overcome Paraguay's Cerro Porteno, then the two historic rivals from the city of Sao Paulo will meet in the quarterfinal. With the Brazilian press quickly doing its best to crank up the tension, there is a temptation to see the coming round as mere prelude to a clash of the titans in the last eight -- the kind of error that the gods of football are often keen to punish.
There is one sense, though, in which the Brazilians have a palpable advantage. Their domestic league goes all the way up to the eve of the World Cup, and resumes straight afterwards. So their sides will be in full competitive rhythm at the time that the Libertadores resumes in early August. The Argentines, meanwhile, will still be in preseason, with their next league campaign set to kick off later in the month. That could make all the difference.
Sides named first are at home in the first legs (Aug. 7-9, with the return games played between Aug. 28-30.)
Colo Colo (Chile) vs. Corinthians (Brazil)
Cerro Porteno (Paraguay) vs. Palmeiras (Brazil)
Boca Juniors (Argentina) vs. Libertad (Paraguay)
Flamengo (Brazil) vs. Cruzeiro (Brazil)
Atletico Tucuman (Argentina) vs. Atletico Nacional (Colombia)
Estudiantes (Argentina) vs. Gremio (Brazil)
Independiente (Argentina) vs. Santos (Brazil)
Racing (Argentina) vs. River Plate (Argentina)