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After a long time, Conmebol decided to introduce radical changes to the Copa Libertadores, the main competition for South American clubs. The number of participants increased to 47, two new qualifying stages were created, and the tournament was extended to almost 11 months. By 2016, 38 teams played the tournament from February to July. After the end of this year’s group stage, dominance continues from Brazilians and Argentines. Let’s find out if they’ll be able to win the Cup, which was triumphed last year by the Colombians of Atletico Nacional, now that the Round of 16 has been drawn.
After six rounds in the group stage, the first place teams face those in second. In Pot #1 (the teams that won their groups), there are five Brazilian teams and three Argentines. Champion in 2013, Atletico-MG made the best campaign and will play all the matches during the knockout stage (if they reach the final). With a very strong attack, led by the well-known Robinho and Fred, the team of Belo Horizonte finished first in the general classification because they scored the most goals (17), since Lanús, Grêmio, River Plate and Palmeiras all had tied with them on points (13).
Palmeiras and Grêmio were the winners of the Brazilian national championships in 2016. Palmeiras won the 2016 Brazilian Championship but couldn’t keep up the good performances in the first half of this year, with the sale of Gabriel Jesus to Manchester City. They brought in Borja, champion for the Atletico Nacional, who still wasn’t quite enough. On the other hand, Grêmio won the 2016 Brazilian Cup, but suffered a bit from Douglas’s injury. They remained strong this year thanks to Luan’s rise, perhaps the best player in the country today. Grêmio and Palmeiras will play against Godoy Cruz (Argentina) and Barcelona (Ecuador), respectively.
On the Argentine side, River Plate lost the chance to be the best-placed team with a defeat at home to a team already eliminated from their group. Even so, Los Millonarios, led by coach Gallardo and Lucas Alario goals, are always a difficult opponent to beat. Their opponent in the Round of 16 will be Guarani (Paraguay).
Lanús is perhaps the strongest Argentine team at the moment. Current national champion, they count on a “cascudo” team and the goals of Jose Sand. The Bolivian The Strongest face them, with the top striker Alejandro Chumacero (8 goals) and La Paz’s altitude (3,650 m).
Santos, Botafogo and San Lorenzo were the others placed first. Santos will face the other Brazilian side, Atletico-PR, Botafogo will face the Uruguayan Nacional, and San Lorenzo will play against Emelec (Ecuador).
The next round is disappointing for Colombia, none of whose teams qualified for the knockout phase after having seen their Atletico National champion in 2016.
The Round of 16 will be decided in August. The final of the Copa Libertadores is still far away, scheduled for the end of November. However, everything suggests that the cup will be ruled by Brazilians or Argentines, who have already raised it 41 times in 57 editions and has 10 of the 16 remaining clubs in the current edition of the tournament.