2014 Copa Libertadores Review, Preview, and Highlights

The 2014 Copa Libertadores is well underway, and the Semi-Final Round is just around the corner with four teams that have never been crowned champions before!

The Copa Libertadores was established in 1960 for the league champions of CONMEBOL members. Today, the stronger leagues such as the Brasileira Serie A also receive bids to the competition for clubs finishing from second place to fourth place. The cup is held annually and creates an intensely competitive atmosphere from not only the intra-country clubs competing against each other, as derbies are a regular sight, but it also creates a sense of national pride and patriotism when the inter-country clubs face off. In 2011, five Brazilian clubs entered the Round of 16 knockout stage. In a shocking run of results, only one of those clubs, Santos, advanced to the Quarter-final round. Native Brazilians, whether supporters of Santos or not, seemed to rally around their country’s lone remaining team in the competition, as the mass elimination was perceived as a slight on Brazilian pride. In the end, the Vila Belmiro-based club stormed their way through to the title, continuing a winning streak of Brazilian dominance that has now lasted for four consecutive years, and patriotism reigned in the proud nation. While the more glorified, UEFA European Championships receives more attention across the globe, the Copa Libertadores holds equal significance in a land where competitive attitudes and nationalistic fervency are as common as the footballing religion.

The 2014 Copa Libertadores Semi-Finals round fast approaches, with the matches beginning this week on the 23rd July (CET). It has not been a traditional cup thus far, as most of the tournament favorites have all been eliminated. In fact, of the four remaining clubs in the competition–Argentina’s San Lorenzo, Bolivia’s Bolivar, Paraguay’s Nacional Asuncion, and Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting–none of them have ever claimed the Copa Libertadores trophy nor have any of them made it into the competition’s title match. It is a storyline that adds intrigue and spice for those who love a good Cinderella story, as the tournament favorites and traditional powerhouses have all crashed out of the competition. 2013 champions and Brazilian big boys Atletico Mineiro were unexpectedly booted from the competition in the Round of 16, while their Brazilian counterparts Santos and Corinthians failed to even qualify. 5-time champion Penarol of Uruguay failed to get out of the group stage with a limp 5 point effort, and number 1 seed (out of the group stages) Velez Sarsfield of Argentina lost in the Round of 16 after picking up 15 points from Group 1.

Argentina’s San Lorenzo have been tipped as the odds-on favorites headed into the semi-final round. They barely slipped through the group stages on goal differential with an inconsistent record of 2-2-2, but their performances became much more convincing in the knockout rounds, eliminating former tournament champions Gremio and Cruzeiro. The Buenos Aires-based club are led in goals by Mauro Matos, but expectations may be wisely tempered on the favorites, as their talented attacking midfielder Angel Correa has moved on to Spain to play with La Liga champions, Atletico Madrid. Top odds for the Argentinians to claim the crown can be found at 2.00 odds at Bwin.

Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting are the second-highest favorites to lift the Copa Libertadores trophy, as a strong defensive record has led them to their current position (6 goals conceded in 8 cup matches). Many expected this team to be long gone by now, but when faced with their first moment of adversity in a 2:0 defeat to The Strongest in the first-leg of their Round of 16 match, the Violetas responded with a bang, striking in 2 second-half goals in the second-leg to draw level. Goalkeeper Martin Campana, arguably this side’s top player, stifled the opposition in penalty kicks, and momentum carried the Uruguayans past Colombia’s Atletico Nacional (3:0 on  aggregate) en route to the semi-final round. A player to keep your eye on is Nicolas Olivera, who has the second-most goals in the competition with 5, as well as 3 assists to boot. Top odds on Defensor Sporting to win the Copa Libertadores can be found at Bet365 at 4.50 odds.

Bolivia’s Bolivar fall under the category of underdogs once again, especially as they will face current tournament favorites San Lorenzo in the semi-finals. Bolivar seemingly sleepwalked through the opening 3 matches of the group stages, earning just 2 points while conceding 5 times. But then something clicked, and the Bolivians didn’t look back, as they won their final 3 group matches en route to a 1st place finish. In the knockout rounds, they dispatched Mexican side Leon in a tight contest, advancing on away goals (3:3 on aggregate). The next round saw them eliminate Argentinian club Lanus 2:1 through two-legs of play, and the Bolivians now have an outside shot at making personal history. However, it is important to note that their best player and the cup’s leading assist-maker William Ferreira has since departed the club. Best odds for the Bolivians to win their first-ever Copa Libertadores trophy can be found at Sportingbet at 5.75 odds.

Paraguay’s Nacional Asuncion are the tournament’s big underdogs headed into the final four, and while they may have never been champions of the cup, they have certainly been playing like it. After beginning the group stages with a loss to Sante Fe, the Paraguayans regathered themselves and claimed 8 points from their next 5 matches, including back-to-back draws with defending champion, Atletico Mineiro. This saw them through to the Round of 16, where they shockingly upset the number one seed from the group stages, Velez Sarsfield (3:2 on aggregate). This earned them a berth in the quarter-finals, where they stifled Argentinian side Arsenal 1:0 through two-legs. Midfield veteran Freddy Bareiro makes this team tick, but it’ll be up to striker Julian Benitez to provide his club with a chance to prove the bookmakers wrong. Top odds on a Nacional Asuncion trophy grab can be found at Bet365 at 6.00 odds.

Television viewings for the 2014 Copa Libertadores will be readily accessible for those with the Fox Sports package. The American sports conglomerate will be televising the matches live on Fox Deportes, but replays won’t be available for the foreseeable future, so tuning in on the 22nd July 20:15 EST (02:15 CET) and on the 23rd July 18:30 EST (00:30 CET) is the best way to ensure you catch the semi-final games. Or, tune in to our live text commentary here at Livetipsportal.com!

In honor of the four nationalities that remain, here are their respective club highlights from the 2014 Copa Libertadores: