Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Testing Times

Whilst the group stages of the Copa Libertadores aren't quite the cash cow that the Champions League is competition to reach them will still be fierce. The guaranteed income that they provide will keep the bailiff's away and the tax man happy for a few months. With the financial tightrope that the majority of Argentina's clubs are balanced on both Newell's and Colón will feel the pressure to progress.

Newell's face the longest trans-Andean trek as they've been drawn against Ecuadorean side Emelec of Guayaquil a mere 4000km away. The PSV Eindhoven of Latin America - whose origins are also borne of a local electrics factory will be testing opponents for The Lepers. Emelec were the country's first representatives in the Copa Libertadores of 1962 a decade in which clubs from both banks of the Rio de la Plata dominated. Football in Ecuador has shrugged off the tag of perpetual minnows in recent years with Liga de Quito winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores and Recopa Sudamericana and also last years Copa Sudamericana. A barometer of the country's progress can be seen from the amount of talent now playing in Europe. With Guayaquil being at sea level at least Newell's wont have to wrestle with the affects of altitude they will however be subjected to a hot and clammy tropical climate.

In contrast to Newell's, Colón of Santa Fe are faced with a short hop to Santiago where they will play Universidad Católica, who lost out to city rivals Colo Colo in the final of 2009's Apertura. This will be Colón's first Libertadores appearance since 1998 and they have qualified by virtue of the amount of points they amassed last year, a trip to Chile's third most successful club is scant reward for their toils. Lining up against Católica will be 37 year old striker Esteban Fuertes Colón's all time record goalscorer and the archetypal footballing nomad. Never has David Coleman's 'goals pay the rent, and Keegan does his share' quote seemed more apt. Considering the amount of teams he's played it's of no great surprise that he also had a spell with La UC which ended under somewhat of cloud when he suffered a knee injury.

The triumph of Estudiantes last season was a majestic achievement. This victory has masked the collective failings of Argentina's other representatives and also highlighted the general decline in standards throughout the league, only the eventual champions reached the quarter finals as opposed to four teams from Brazil. Both San Lorenzo and Lanús finished bottom of their respective groups and as I've mentioned before none of the Big Five have made it this year, they'll have the various pre-season clásicos to fret over.

This year's Copa Libertadores schedule in full: