The first phase of the Copa Santander Libertadores is over and the matchups for the round of 16 have now been decided.
The Brazilian teams ruled the initial rounds and have seen how all their teams made it through to a second phase that promises to be exciting and a very tight race towards the title.
Atletico Mineiro vs. Sao Paulo
There will be some very interesting matchups in the next round, with Atletico Mineiro, led by Ronaldinho, facing almighty Sao Paulo, the defending Copa Sudamericana champ, and the team that has Luis Fabiano, Ganso, Lucio and Rogerio Ceni. Ironically enough, Atletico had a chance to oust Sao Paulo in the last game of their group, which would have given Arsenal a spot in the final round. But a 2-0 victory by the Paulistas in that game, in which star forwards Luis Fabiano and Jadson were not able to play, gave the two teams the passing grade… and as fate would have it that they would be drawn out together for the round of 16.
Ronaldinho’s team is the clear favorite of the tournament, after winning every single game in the first phase except the last one against Sao Paulo, and being the top scoring team, tied with Olimpia.
Corinthians – Boca Juniors
But, of the eight matchups, the most awaited one will definitely be the Corinthians – Boca Juniors game.
Boca has the second most trophies (6), trailing only Independiente by one, and although their prodigal son, Juan Roman Riquelme, returned to the club after being semi retired for a year and the directors also brought back the legendary coach who guided the best Boca of all time, Carlos Bianchi, the team’s trajectory in the Argentine league has been very much below par.
Boca sits in the fourth spot from the bottom, and just last weekend lost 6-1 against San Martin, the team that sits right below them on the table; something that had never happened to the Argentine giant in history.
Playing in favor of the Argentine squad in this head-to-head confrontation, is the fact that statistically, Bianchi is a favorite in the matchup. He has won each of the six double-elimination rounds he has faced a Brazilian opponent in the Copa Libertadores, including victories against Palmeiras twice and Sao Paulo, with three of the six times being in the actual final of the tournament
In front of them they’ll have Corinthians, the defending champs, and current FIFA Club World Cup champions. The “Timao” has not lost a bit of the punch that got them all the way to Japan and that allowed them to beat Chelsea in the final of the tournament. They won Group 5 and qualified without many issues, although they did tie against the revelation of the tournament, Xolos of Tijuana, at the top spot of the group.
Xolos vs. Palmeiras
Xolos will actually face another of the Brazilian classics, Palmeiras, in another important matchup of this next round. Xolos has been the true underdog of the competition thus far, beating San Jose and Millonarios of Bogota en route to the round of 16. They have become strong at home and won all three games they played in Tijuana, while they were only able to win once away from Baja California. The team was able to make the best of their defensive skills and quick counters, with Fidel Martinez scoring three of the team’s eight goals.
Palmeiras, however, arrives at the matchup full of confidence after leading Group 2 and beating classics like Tigre, Libertad and Sporting Cristal.
The other Copa Libertadores round of 16 matchups
In the other matches, Velez Sarsfield will face fellow countrymen, Newell’s Old Boys; Santa Fe de Bogota will try to pull an upset against Gremio of Brazil; Uruguay’s Nacional will face, probably, the cinderella of the group: Garcilaso from Peru; Olimpia will showcase the tournament’s leading goal scorer, Braian Rodriguez; and Deco’s Fluminense will battle Ecuador’s Emelec.