With UEFA’s premier club competition entering the semifinal stage, we now also know the composition of the bracket for the knockout stage of South America’s top tournament. The last round of Copa Libertadores group matches yielded a few surprises, with the defending champion failing to continue its chance at a repeat and a few teams squeaking into the round of 16 at the last moment.
It is important to remember that the knockout stage of the Copa Libertadores differs from the Champions League in that the matchups are not redrawn each round in South America as they are in Europe. Rather, the teams are seeded first through 16th based on results in the group stage. The bracket is then set much like March Madness in college basketball, providing the opportunity to fill out brackets. I’ll offer mine at the end of this article.
Suffice it to say that this has presented some interesting matchups. Two of the eight draws feature dueling Brazilian sides, the first time that has happened in the tournament’s history. Then there are Argentina’s two most famous clubs, pitted against one another thanks to one team finishing as the record-breaking best qualifier of the bunch and the other barely skirting in from the group stage.
With the first match of the first leg kicking off on Tuesday before the remainder concludes next week, let’s get down to business and dive into this year’s field of contenders for the Copa Libertadores. Click ahead to find analysis and predictions for all eight pairings before finishing with a breakdown of the bracket based on these picks.
#2 UANL Tigres (Mexico) v. #15 Universitario (Bolivia)
UANL is the lone Mexican side to have reached the knockout stage, but they did it in emphatic fashion as one of just two clubs to finish the group stage without a defeat. Qualifying with four wins and two draws, UANL could be really good — or they could just be the beneficiary of a group that frankly proved itself to be the worst of the group stage. We’ll find out on Tuesday when they head to Sucre to take on Universitario, the Bolivian side that held the lead in Group 3 until losing to Cruzeiro and getting passed by the Brazilians on the last matchday. The Bolivians had a pair of 0-0 draws along with a 2-0 win over group cellar-dweller Mineros on their home turf, a likely outcome for this opening match. Once the stage shifts to Mexico, however, UANL will prove to be the better side by far, and Universitario won’t have the firepower to keep up.
PREDICTION: UANL advances 3-0 on aggregate
#7 Atletico Nacional (Colombia) v. #10 Emelec (Ecuador)
Atletico Nacional finished just one point ahead of Estudiantes de La Plata in Group 7, pulling ahead of the Argentine side after a solid 4-0 win over Libertad in a winner-take-all match to conclude the group stage. More importantly, they finished only one point ahead of their Round of 16 opponent, Emelec. The Ecuadorian club vaulted above Bolivia’s The Strongest thanks to a group-concluding 2-0 win over Universidad de Chile at home. The Colombians are prone to score more goals, averaging two per match in the group stage to 1.5 per match for Emelec; the Ecuadorians, however, allowed two fewer goals overall than Nacional, and the only thing separating them in the seeding was the circumstance of the group into which each was drawn. Ultimately one club was more dangerous on the road, though, which should be enough to send them through on away goals.
PREDICTION: Atletico Nacional advances 4-4 on away goals