Since 1998, Mexican clubs have participated in the Copa Libertadores in a sweetheart deal with CONMEBOL. This year two teams are in the group stage, with Atlas sitting in third place in Group 1 after three matches. They were knocked out in the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2008, the only other times they have appeared in the competition, and if they hope to advance that far they will have to rebound with wins at home in their next two matchdays.
Atlas has the benefit of playing the top team in the standings at home. Chilean Clausura champion Colo-Colo will visit the Estadio Jalisco on April 7, after defeating the Mexicans 2-0 in Santiago on March 18. The following week Atlas will host Atletico Mineiro in Guadalajara, a team they already beat in Belo Horizonte 1-0 in late February. Should they gain at least four points from those two matches, Atlas will be in position to return to the knockout stage for a third time.
Standing in their way will be Independiente Santa Fe, the defending Colombian champions. The Colombians have already knocked off Atlas in Mexico, putting their final matchday encounter in Bogota. The mountain is probably too high to surmount for Atlas, especially given their current form in Liga MX that currently has the club sitting in sixth.
PREDICTED FINAL ORDER: Santa Fe, Colo-Colo, Atlas, Atletico Mineiro
Despite containing the defending Copa Libertadores champion San Lorenzo, Group 2 has been dominated to this point by a pair of Brazilian clubs that threaten to send the Argentine powerhouse home before it can get to the point of mounting a serious title defense. Corinthians, fourth last year in Brazil, is one of just two clubs still boasting a perfect record at this point in the competition. Their Paulista rival, Sao Paulo, lost 2-0 at Arena Corinthians on the opening matchday but has won both its matches thereafter.
Working in San Lorenzo’s favor is the fact that they still have two matches left to play at the Nuevo Gasometro, with a chance to atone for a late loss at Sao Paulo first up on April 1. If they can draw level in the standings with the Brazilians, passage to the next round might not necessarily be contingent on the result of their trip to Arena Corinthians two weeks later. The home finale against Uruguay’s Danubio, which has turned into the punching bag for the group, will offer the opportunity to stack goal differential in the Argentine club’s favor.
Brazil’s two sides in this group have benefited from being able to play full-strength sides without also worrying about domestic play at the moment. For the Rioplatense clubs in the group, the battle will be staying fresh against the pair. The defending champions should be able to mount a successful charge, but don’t expect as much from the Uruguayans.
PREDICTED FINAL ORDER: Corinthians, San Lorenzo, Sao Paulo, Danubio