The Copa Sudamericana can be surprising. Conmebol has been trying to make the competition more interesting year after year and apparently it is succeeding. Who are the main clubs participating? What are the expectations? Check it out!
Currently, the Copa Sudamericana has 32 clubs, divided into 8 groups with 4 teams each.
These 4 teams compete against each other, in round-robin matches, for the title of group champion, so that they can advance to the round of 16.
Therefore, the it becomes even more interesting and competitive, given that the third placed in their groups in the Copa Libertadores will face the second place in Sudamericana group in a play-off match. Therefore, the winner will reach round of 16.
Thus, the champions of each group and the play-off winner will be drawn among themselves.
In this sense, it is worth analyzing each of the groups here and making a projection about those who will probably perform better than the others.
Group A is formed by Liga de Quito (Ecuador), Botafogo (Brazil), Universidad César Vallejo (Peru) and Magallanes (Chile).
The dispute for the 1st place should be limited to LDU and Botafogo.
Liga de Quito has already won the Copa Sudamericana in 2009, in addition to having a Copa Libertadores in 2008 on its curriculum. Furthermore, it is used to participating in international competitions and on many occasions it qualifies for the knockout stages. Still, it has the altitude factor in its favor when playing in Quito, with 2,850 meters above sea level.
Botafogo has not been playing good football, so it did not participate in the knockout phase of the Carioca Championship. However, tycoon John Textor has been hiring and qualifying the squad, which is why the team can grow throughout the season, being an important candidate for classification.
Group B is formed by Emelec (Ecuador), Guarani (Paraguay), Danubio (Uruguay) and Huracán (Argentina).
This is an extremely disputed group, so Emelec, Guarani and Huracán are used to playing in international tournaments, including recent participation in the Copa Libertadores.
Danubio, on the other hand, runs outside, with regular campaigns in the Uruguayan Championship, occupying 5th place in the 2022 season, the same position it occupies in the current championship.
Despite the tradition, Huracán needs to replace its losses consistently, and the club sold its star, Cristaldo, acquired by Grêmio. The team captain, defender Merolla, is also no longer part of the Argentine club’s squad, since he chose not to renew the contract that ends in July.
Group C is formed by Estudiantes (Argentina), Red Bull Bragantino (Brazil), Oriente Petrolero (Bolivia) and Tacuary (Paraguay).
In this group, there seems to be a clear division between the front pack and the rest. Estudiantes de La Plata, an extremely traditional team that has won the Copa Libertadores 4 times, is the clear favorite for the classification. Last season, including, had a good participation in the aforementioned competition, reaching the quarterfinals and being eliminated by finalist Athletico Paranaense with 1-0 on the aggregate score.
Bragantino makes regular seasons and has in fact achieved another status at the national and international level since the arrival of Red Bull. However, the team has just lost its best player, Artur, to Palmeiras. In addition, they were eliminated by Água Santa in the semifinals of the Campeonato Paulista, a club with a much lower investment than Braga.
Oriente Petrolero and Tacuary are teams without much tradition in national competitions and appear as supporting players in the group, which has Estudiantes as the favorite to advance.
Group D is formed by São Paulo (Brazil), Tolima (Colombia), Tigre (Argentina) and Puerto Cabello (Venezuela).
Despite a less than expected start to the season, even with internal conflicts between the players and coach Rogério Ceni, São Paulo is expected to qualify. This, either because of the investment made in the club in recent seasons, or because of the club’s tradition in international competitions, being the biggest winner in Brazil in this regard.
However, the Tricolor must be aware. Tigre can be a very competitive team, with the top scorer of the Italian national team, Retegui. In addition, there is an unresolved feud with São Paulo, due to the controversial final of Sudamericana 2012, in which the Argentine club refused to return to the second half, which crowned the Brazilian team champion of that edition.
Tolima is not going through a good time. Despite having participated in Libertadores editions recently, they ended the 2022 season only in 14th place in the Colombian Championship. In the year 2023 things seem not to have changed and today the are at the 9th place in the tournament. However, it is a dangerous team and may come as a surprise.
Group E is formed by Santos (Brazil), Newell’s Old Boys (Argentina), Blooming (Bolivia) and Audax Italiano (Chile).
Santos lives a situation similar to São Paulo. If taken into account their tradition in international competitions combined with the investment made in the season in relation to their competitors, they should qualify.
However, Peixe is in fact going through a complicated phase and until the beginning of the Copa Sudamericana, on 04/04/2023, the team will have spent a month without playing an official game, since the classification for the third phase of the Copa do Brasil and elimination of the Paulista Championship.
Newell’s has had frequent participations in its history in international competitions. Last season, they ranked 11th in the Argentine Championship and today they are making a regular campaign in the Apertura, occupying the 6th position. They would be the biggest obstacle for a classification of Santos.
Blooming and Audax Italiano are having a bad season beginning. Both are in the relegation zone of their domestic leagues. Blooming even has 1 draw and 5 defeats in the season. Audax Italiano, in turn, lost their last 3 games. If they don’t give a considerable turn in the season, they didn’t present great difficulties for the others.
Group F is formed by Peñarol (Uruguay), Defensa y Justicia (Argentina), América Mineiro (Brazil) and Millonarios (Colombia).
This is, without a doubt, the group of death of the Copa Sudamericana. More than that, in this group there is a very high parity between the clubs, being more disputed than many of the clashes that we will have at this stage in the Libertadores.
Peñarol needs no introduction, especially in international competitions. They are five-time champion of the Copa Libertadores. Still, they are having a great season so far and is the leader of the Uruguayan Championship so far.
Defensa y Justicia is a club that is here to stay, both on the national and international scene. In 2021, they were Champions of the Copa Sudamericana and Recopa, in addition to having taken the Argentine vice-championship. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve had a great season start, occupying third place in the Apertura.
América Mineiro, like Defensa y Justicia, has been occupying its place on the national and international scene. An extremely organized team, in all areas. Whether financially, in the scouts, or on the field. In recent years, Coelho has participated in the Copa Libertadores, reached the semifinals of the Copa do Brasil and almost guaranteed a spot for the disputed Libertadores this year, having been only 2 points behind Fortaleza. Still, they eliminated their rival Cruzeiro in the semifinal of the Mineiro Championship with some ease and face Atlético Mineiro in the final.
Millonarios is also a team of considerable quality. They had the setback of facing one of the strongest teams in America today, Atlético Mineiro. Even so, they imposed difficulties on Galo, especially in the first game. The club is also going through a good time, as are its competitors. Today it occupies the 4th position of the Colombian Championship, being undefeated in the last 5 games.
In summary, it is impossible to predict any kind of favoritism for this group, as all 4 teams have equal chances of becoming group champions, as well as advancing in a possible play-off.
Group G is formed by Santa Fe (Colombia), Universitario (Peru), Goiás (Brazil) and Gymnasia y Esgrima (Argentina).
This is also a balanced group. Santa Fé, Gymnasia and Goiás are and have been regular in previous seasons occupying the middle of the table. Goiás, for example, lost their striker Pedro Raul to Vasco, one of the best players in the 2022 Brazilian Championship.
Universitario, in turn, occupies the first position of the Peruvian Championship, however this does not qualify it as the main candidate for the group champion, since the other clubs face a considerably more disputed league and will need to present a consistent football to pass the stage in the Copa Sudamericana.
Group G is formed by San Lorenzo (Argentina), Palestino (Chile), Estudiantes de Mérida (Venezuela) and Fortaleza (Brazil).
Apparently, this should be another dispute between Brazil and Argentina. Palestino and Estudiantes de Mérida are two teams without much tradition in international competitions and dispute leagues considered weaker in South America.
San Lorenzo, champion of the 2014 Libertadores, is going through a great phase. The 2022 season ended well, with a 6th place in the Argentine Championship and now occupies the 2nd place of the tournament, with 3 wins and 1 draw in the last 4 games.
Fortaleza, in turn, is one of the aforementioned examples of organization on and off the field. The club comes for another season with coach Vojvoda, who has been in charge since 2021. Currently, Leão do Pici is in the final of the Campeonato Cearense and semifinals of the Copa do Nordeste, both disputes with their archrival, Ceará. The team from Ceará State fell to Cerro Porteño in the pre-Libertadores and promises to spare no effort to reach the knockout stage of the Copa Sudamericana.
As previously mentioned, the Copa Sudamericana, through mechanisms implemented by Conmebol, has become an increasingly competitive tournament. This year, for example, we can observe very qualified groups, which will undoubtedly present disputes of the highest level.
As if that were not enough, in order to pass the 1st phase straight, the teams must be leaders of the group, making clear the indisputable quality of the club that qualifies for the round of 16.
On the other hand, there will be the third-placed Libertadores, which could be high-level teams that failed to qualify due to the quality of their opponents, that still have to face the second place in Sudamericana group.
Therefore, there is the expectation of a great Copa Sudamericana, with a focus on Brazilian and Argentine clubs, as well as LDU, which should be the main candidates for the title, at least in this first moment when the Libertadores clubs are not present.
And for you, who are the main contenders for the title?
Written by Vitor F L Miller