Halfway through the 2010 Copa Sudamericana seems as good a time as any to list the best ten teams still in the tournament, but before we get to that a quick explanation of the tournament itself. It is a continental tournament for CONMEBOL clubs established in 2002 and still not quite viewed with the same prestige as its older brother the Copa Libertadores. However don’t put this in the Fairs Cup/UEFA Cup/Europa League category just yet. Most of the teams competing now will also be lining up in the Copa Libertadores, the standard is still high. The first two phases (we are currently in the 2nd phase) are regional, in the first round Paraguayans face off against Uruguayan counterparts, the same for Bolivia and Chile, Peru and Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. In the second phase enter the big boys, Argentinians battle it out against domestic rivals as do Brazilians, meanwhile the format stays the same except the victors from the ‘guays’ face the Bolivian and/or Chilean winners. After that the 16 survivors are in a straight knockout until the final, all games being played over two legs home and away.
Right so now we have that straight, who are my Top Ten (in order) picks to come out on top this year. The final is in the first week of December – don’t worry I’ll remind you all then how right this list was!
10. Avaí (Brazil)
This is the first ever outing in continental competition for the Florianópolis-based club. They already produced a shock by beating Brazilian rivals Santos to qualify for the Last 16. They are an unknown quantity only re-entering Serie A in 2009 and shocking everybody with a 6th place finish. They are a total surprise package and just make my list. You Avaí trivia for the day – their celebrity fan is Gustavo Kuerten!
My prediction: Crash out in Last 16, Winners – who knows with these guys?!?!
9. Defensor Sporting (Uruguay)
Uruguayan football has been undergoing something of a revival in recent years, which culminated in the national team’s excellent performance at the 2010 World Cup. Last year they pulled off one of the great shocks of the Copa Libertadores beating Boca Juniors at La Bombanera to progress to the Quarter Finals, their joint best finish. They reached the same stage in the 2007 Copa Sudamericana and are out to better that this year. They started well with a 9-0 thumping of Sport Huancayo in the 1st leg of the 2nd this week.
My prediction: Last 16 on account of their opponents – Independiente
8. Cerro Porteño (Paraguay)
Domestic success has been easy for the Paraguayan outfit but their failure to win an international competition has haunted them for decades to the delight of rival fans of Olimpia. They have to overturn a first leg defeat away from home to Bolivian opponents Club Universitario I’m confident they will do that and maybe progress further. They are engaged in an engrossing tussle at the top of the Paraguayan League table (currently behind Libertad on goal difference) and boast one of the most exciting strike partnerships of the competition in local lad Pablo Zeballos and an Argentinian with European experience in Roberto Nanni. Behind those two is Julio Dos Santos, dubbed the next Michael Ballack when he signed for Bayern Munich – that didn’t quite work out but it is an indication of the attacking calibre this team has.
My prediction: A tough draw suggests Last 16 but I hope they could surprise their way into the semis!
7. Banfield (Argentina)
The winners of the 2009 Argentinian Apertura are already through to the Last 16 after defeating neighbours Vélez Sarsfield. That was their first title as a professional club and this is the furthest they’ve reached in competition so they really are in unchartered waters. Hard to beat, they haven’t lost a game yet this season and have the second best defensive record in the league. They have a creative spark in 30 year-old left winger Walter Erviti, he is their player to look out for (but you have to look hard he is only 5 ft 6 in!).
My prediction: Quarter Finals
6. Universidad San Martin (Peru)
A solid away win against Emelec in the 1st leg should be enough to see them through to the Last 16. Like most of the clubs from smaller nations (e.g. Not Brazil or Argentina) the Peruvians will benefit from the lack of Mexican teams (until 2008 they were invited to participate) which gives them more of a chance. This is their first appearance in this competition since 2006 but they played in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the Libertadores so this team has experience. Currently coached by Aníbal Ruiz who took Paraguay to the 2006 World Cup, their best player is also a foreigner the Argentine Pablo Vitti. He’s already got two goals in the tournament so far.
My prediction: A potential Last 16 match up against Avaí makes them Quarter Finalists in my book.
5. LDU Quito (Ecuador)
The 2009 Champions may not have as strong a side as last year, namely losing 2009 top scorers Claudio Bieler and Édison Méndez, but they just picked up the Recopa Sudamericana last week. Also with home advantage playing such a strong part in South American football you must always be wary of a team that plays at altitude. Last season they were unbeaten at home with the outstanding results being a 4-0 victory over Lanus in the last 16, a 7-0 win over River Plate (URU) in the semis and a 5-1 win in the final against Fluminense. If they pick up that kind of form again, they will become only the 2nd team to retain the trophy (Boca Juniors in 2004 and 2005).
My prediction: Quarter-Finalists (or Winners if they beat Estudiantes at that stage)
4. Peñarol (Uruguay)
The Montevideans have a great tradition in continental competition, currently sitting 2nd in the CONMEBOL all-time rankings. No success since 1987 but they have the capability to change that this year. International forward Fabián Estyanoff is back from Europe, they have the vastly experienced Santiago Solari on their books and veteran striker Diego Alonso leads the line. They have a tough tie against Brazil’s Goias but if they progress through that the draw opens up and they be basking in glory once again!
My prediction: Semi-Finalists
3. Independiente (Argentina)
If you are a big club from Argentina with a glorious history in continental competition then you immediately are a team to watch out for. They edged through to the Last 16 with a 2-1 aggregate win against Argentinos and await Defensor Sporting of Uruguay. The man to watch is Germán Pacheco currently on loan from Atletico Madrid the 19-year-old striker has the chance to make his mark on the big stage. The Diablos Rojos don’t seem to have a great chance in the title race in Argentina which leaves the undistracted in this midweek competition which will take full priority.
My prediction: Semi Finalists
2. Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina)
The 2009 Copa Libertadores champions made their bow this week in the competition and were beaten by a 93rd minute penalty in Rosario against Newell’s Old Boys. Like Cerro (above) I expect them to overturn this deficit at home. They are currently top of the Argentinian League with a game in hand having only conceded 1 goal in 5 games. They are led by Juan Sebastián Verón and have the talented Gastón Fernández to finish off the chances Verón creates. Their previous best in this tournament was runners-up in 2008, I’m backing them to match that in this campaign.
My prediction: Finalists
1. Palmeiras (Brazil)
One of the big guns on the continent and likely to progress far in this tournament. Earlier this year they signed Ewerthon former Borussia Dortmund hitman to join Chilean international Jorge Valdivia and veteran midfielder Marcos Assunção. Oh and they are all coached by Luis Felipe Scolari. Historically Brazilian teams haven’t fared as well as their Argentinian neighbours (only Internacional have won it compared to 4 victories by 3 different Argentine teams) but it is hard to look past the strength of this Palmeiras side especially now that Boca Juniors and River Plate no longer qualify automatically. They are my team to beat.
My prediction: Finalists, probable winners.
Ok so that’s all for this week. Check back next week on Tuesday and Friday where we run through some more football Top Tens!!