If You’re Not Watching Copa Libertadores, You Should Be

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The Semi-finals of the South American equivalent to the UEFA Champions League continues tonight. Why it matters and why you should watch.

The first match of the second leg of the Semi-finals of the 2018 edition of the Copa Libertadores is set to start tonight in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as titleholders and Brazilian side Gremio receive Argentine side and tournament hopefuls River Plate. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:45 PM EST.

The second and final match of this crucial leg is scheduled for tomorrow night in Sao Paolo, Brazil, as Brazilian league leaders Palmeiras welcome current Argentine league titleholders Boca Juniors, set to start at 8:45 PM EST as well.

History

One of the world’s most prestigious athletic tournaments, Copa Libertadores nonetheless remains an obscure competition for soccer fans in the United States. Begun in 1960 as the third and final installment in a series of failed and abandoned attempts by South American Federations to create a continental competition at the club level, the tournament quickly became a harbinger for the way in which other high-level soccer competitions would be planned and executed throughout the confines of CONMEBOL, South America’s governing soccer body.

Having evolved into a year-long tournament that starts in late January to early February, and concludes towards the middle to end of November of the same calendar year, the tournament pits the champions from each one of South America’s national leagues and national cups, as well as the champion from the previous year’s Copa Sudamericana, the continent’s second-most prestigious international tournament at the club level. Top finishers and top-seeded teams from each one of these competitions also qualify to a contest that rounds out at 47 participants each year.

Prestigious Clubs & Players

Some of the world’s most well-known sides compete in the tournament, which is often internationally seen as the South American equivalent to UEFA Champions League in terms of prestige and history. Copa Libertadores has often been made famous by stars both past and present such as Santos’ 1960s line-up which included names like Pele, Tite, and Ramiro. It’s no wonder Santos’ lineup then is still considered to be one of the best in club history. In 2009, Neymar begun his senior career at Santos as well.

Other big sides whose past and present stars boost the tournaments rich history and allure are:

-Palmeiras (Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos)

-Cruzeiro (Tostao, Ronaldo)

-Corinthians (Garrincha, Socrates, Rivaldo, Dunga)

-Colo Colo (Hugo Rubio, David Arellano)

-Universidad de Chile (Leonel Santos, Marcelo Salas)

-Boca Juniors (Maradona, Riquelme, Tevez)

-River Plate (Di Stefano, Pasarella, Higuain, Lamela)

-Independiente who still holds the record of 7 titles (Boccini, Giusti, Mondragon)

-Penarol (Jacinto Varela, Juan Schiaffino)

-Nacional (Suarez)

-America de Cali (Willington Ortiz, Ernesto Farias)

-Atletico Nacional (Escobar, Higuita)

The comparisons to the UEFA Champions League are all the more reasonable when taking into account the aforementioned clubs and players that participate. In fact from 1960 to 2004, the winner of Copa Libertadores automatically qualified to play a yearly match or set of matches against the winner of the Champions League in the now-defunct Intercontinental Cup for the title of “World Champion”. This latter tournament eventually gave way to today’s Club World Cup, in which the winner of Libertadores is automatically qualified to compete.

 

Here’s the breakdown of the second leg of the Semi-finals which begins tonight.

River Plate vs Gremio – Tuesday, October 30th at 8:45 PM EST

Argentine Recopa champions River Plate face Brazilian side Gremio, and will try to overcome an aggregate score of 0-1 after a painful loss to them at home last Tuesday night. For their part, Gremio, who are only 90 minutes away from qualifying to play yet another final in a chance to defend their title, are hoping for another tactfully dominant performance which would add River Plate as the third-straight Argentine side which the Brazilian ensemble has put to bed throughout the course of this tournament. For Gremio, a team that sits fifth in their national league, and has won only one of their last five league games, Copa Libertadores looms large and heavy as the year’s main objective and a chance to have some success as a club this season.

Palmeiras vs Boca Juniors – Wednesday, October 31st at 8:45 PM EST

For fellow Brazilian side and Brazilian league leaders Palmeiras, the situation is quite the reverse. Although clearly a dominant force both in the top Brazilian championship and in this tournament, Palmeiras will have to count on more than just a good attack plan to overcome an aggregate score that is 2-0 against them. Having previously played Boca Juniors twice in the group stage (winning once in Buenos Aires and tying at home) it is just that tie that stands saliently in their Libertadores record against Argentine side Boca Juniors.

Boca, despite putting all of their resources and efforts into Libertadores, is unfortunately without many of its big-name stars such as Gago, Benedetto and Tevez, who have by and large been watching the tournament from the bench due to injuries. Thus, a tie for them is more than sufficient to secure a much-coveted trip to the final for the first time since 2012. After a tremendous streak in Libertadores and other international competitions at the start of this century, the Argentine institution has not hoisted South America’s highest trophy since 2007. For many fans of the Xeneixe, as Boca is colloquially known, the prospect of going against their league arch rivals River Plate in the finals would be a dream come true. This is a possibility that has been discussed by many commentators of the sport even outside of Argentina, as the River-Boca league derby known as “El Superclasico” is considered to be among the world’s most important, historic, and intense soccer clashes, overshadowed only by El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. For the two rival clubs to face each other again in a tournament as prestigious as Copa Libertadores would be nothing short of sensational.

No matter the final matchup, be it the dream El Superclasico of Buenos Aires, or a clash of two Brazilian titans, the next couple of days will certainly supply soccer fans with a heavy dose of drama, suspense, and spectacle, in the final leg of the seminal round of a tournament which year after year continues to impress and delight. Certainly, with the stakes and prospects as they are, this year is no different.

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