Tim Vickery Column- A look at what Brazilian clubs need to do to safely make the next round of the Copa Libertadores

Atletico Mineiro narrowly won last season's competition - Action Images
The majority of Brazilian teams should escape Libertadores humiliation but why, with a huge financial advantage, is it even open for discussion?

Two defeats, three draws and just one win last week for Brazil’s representatives in the Copa Libertadores and some are looking to push the panic button.

On Sunday night I was on a show on TV Brasil where the audience were asked whether they thought the six local clubs would make it through to the competition’s knock out stages.  Nearly 70% thought they would not.

Reigning champions Atletico Mineiro would seem to have few problems, however.  They might not have played particularly well, and their group might be relatively straightforward, but that is hardly relevant.  The only aim at this point in the competition is to get safely across the line and into the last sixteen, and in Atletico’s case one win from their remaining three games will surely be enough.

It is a task which looks even easier because two of those matches are at home, in their Belo Horizonte fortress, the Independencia stadium.  Atletico have already picked up four points – a win and a draw – from their two away matches, and in the Libertadores this usually makes all the difference.

Away wins in South America are much rarer than in Europe.  The Champions League and the European national team qualifiers often have a ratio of one and a half home wins to every triumph for the visitors.  In South America, both in the Libertadores and in World Cup qualification, away wins are usually twice as rare; the standard ratio is three to one.  In this year’s Libertadores the situation is even more extreme; the group phase has so far contained 30 home wins to just 6 away.

This is the challenge that now faces Gremio, who thus far have probably been the most impressive side in the competition.  But they are in the most difficult group, and now face their hardest two games – away to Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina and then to Atletico Nacional of Colombia.  Even with two defeats, though, they should be safe.  A last round win at home to Nacional of Uruguay, the weakest team in the group, should be enough to secure a place in the knock out stage.

After these two teams, though, things become a bit more complicated.

Cruzeiro went into the Libertadores as tournament favourites; Brazilian teams have won the title in the last four years, and, playing an exciting brand of football, coach Marcelo Oliveira’s team cruised to the 2013 domestic title.  It was always likely, however, that the Libertadores would prove to be more of a test, and so it is turning out.  Cruzeiro have lost both of their away matches.  A 5-1 home win over Universidad de Chile gives them a good goal difference, and means that two more home wins should be good enough.  But now the pressure is on, especially this Thursday against Defensor of Uruguay, who beat them 2-0 in Montevideo last week.

Botafogo also have a crunch home tie against opponents who came out on top a week ago.  This Tuesday they face Independiente del Valle, a small club from Ecuador with an excellent youth policy.  On a waterlogged pitch in a tiny stadium at the altitude of Quito, Botafogo went down 2-1 last Wednesday.  It should be a different story in the Maracana – but, as in the case of Cruzeiro, the pressure is on.  A victory will leave Botafogo sitting pretty – and  the away point they picked up against Union Espanola should serve them well even if they are held to a draw.

Atletico Paranense have two obstacles to overcome.  One is Velez Sarsfield of Argentina, a splendid side who beat them comfortably in Buenos Aires and who will meet them next week in Curitiba.  The other is the altitude of La Paz, where they will travel to meet The Strongest of Bolivia for their final group game.  First comes what should be the home banker against Universitario of Peru, a side who have yet to score in their three matches.  Atletico have only managed two goals – and need to go in search of plenty more against the Peruvians this Thursday; the group may well be defined on goal difference.

The most complicated case is that of Flamengo, who have already lost away to Leon of Mexico, and who dropped two vital home points with last week’s 2-2 draw against Bolivar of Bolivia.  This week they take on the same opponents in La Paz, 3,600 metres above sea level, and without some of their most important players – especially Paraguayan midfielder Victor Caceres, the fighting heart of the team in recent weeks.

In the rarefied air of extreme altitude it is impossible for unacclimatised teams to play their normal game, but Flamengo will surely have to win either in La Paz or in their next game, away to Emelec of Ecuador – who, thankfully for the Rio giants, are from Guayaquil, at sea level, rather than Quito, the country’s mountain capital.

Even if they manage to pull it off, and all the Brazilian clubs battle their way through, a question will still remain; why is this competition proving so difficult?

After all, the gap in financial resources between Brazil’s clubs and those on the rest of the continent has become a chasm.  Last year’s final, for example, was between Atletico Mineiro and Olimpia of Paraguay.  The entire wage bill of the Paraguayan club would not even pay for Ronaldinho – but this difference was not visible on the pitch – so much so that the tie was only decided on a penalty shoot out.  Although Brazilian teams have won the competition in each of the last four years, they are not dominating the Libertadores as one might expect from a glance at the finances.  Indeed, had Atletico keeper Vitor not saved a stoppage time penalty in last year’s quarter final, there would have been no Brazilian participation in the closing stages of the 2013 Libertadores.

In part this can be explained by the inherent difficulty of the Libertadores.  Playing away from home will always present problems in such a large continent with so many climatic variations.  But it is also impossible not to come to the conclusion that domestic Brazilian football continues to punch beneath its weight.

There was plenty of evidence in last week’s draw between Flamengo and Bolivar.  The visiting team were outgunned in technical and physical terms.  But tactically they were a surprise.  In his first game in charge of the club, Bolivar coach Xavier Azkargorta set up his team to be compact and difficult to play through.  A leading Rio football journalist sitting beside me was astonished.  “Even a Bolivian team is more modern than we are,” he exclaimed.

It is worth noting that of those last four Brazilian winners of the Libertadores, only one came back from the World Club Cup with the trophy.  The others all crawled home with their tail between their legs, trying to hide the humiliation.  The exception, of course was the Corinthians of 2012, set up by coach Tite to play in a compact block which seems so hard for other contemporary Brazilian teams to achieve.

Read more:

> Tim Vickery Column: Uruguay helped Brazilian football find its own path
> Vickery Column: Scolari's successful experiments leave him spoiled for choice
> Tim Vickery Column: That Brazilian conveyor belt of talent
 

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April 01, 2015
19:04Agent Stefano Castagna suggests Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool want Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto
19:00Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu praises counterpart Neto
18:51Agent Luciano Ramalho confirms Milan loanee Pablo Armero could move to Flamengo
16:51Homophobic Palmeiras fan rebuked on live TV
16:21Fluminense’s Walter in talks with Atletico-PR
16:19Hernane Brocador on Boca Juniors’ radar
16:15Chelsea lead charge for Douglas Costa
14:05Manchester United join the race for Roberto Firmino
13:55Lucas Leiva is raring to go for Liverpool
13:45PSG eye Barcelona star Neymar as a replacement for Ibrahimović
13:42Danilo has earned his Real Madrid move, says Lopetegui
13:39Neymar responds to Medel's accusation of play acting - 'I don't know who Gary Medel is'
13:38Juventus eye Chelsea duo
13:36Real Madrid confirm Danilo signing
13:33Neymar collects Samba Gold trophy
March 31, 2015
13:00Dunga reveals the huge pressure in managing Seleção
13:00Neymar angered by rough treatment from Chile
13:00Lucas Silva open to loan move from Real Madrid
13:00Dunga praises attacking contribution of Chelsea's Willian
13:00Neymar closing in on Pelé
12:56Andreas Pereira and Manchester United set for crunch talks
12:47Robinho: 'I want to stay at Santos'
12:32Fabinho confident ahead of the season run in with Monaco
08:02Report: Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United to compete for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino
07:22Report: Avellino's Rodrigo Ely and Livorno full-back Maicon turn down Italy to represent Brazil
March 30, 2015
15:50Hoffenheim forward Roberto Firmino hails Brazil Head Coach Dunga
13:16Liverpool's Glen Johnson can replace Dani Alves at Barcelona
13:14Brazil players are determined to make amends, says Dunga
13:12Third-party sent written demand to all parties and persons involved in Neymar deal
13:10Dani Alves: 'My heart is happy in Barcelona'
13:07Dunga: 'Neymar will be judged on World Cup wins'
12:37Liverpool's Lucas thrilled to meet Pele
12:22Liverpool eye a shock swoop for Chelsea's Oscar
12:11Alan Shearer tip's Chelsea's Costa for the golden boot
12:04Filipe Luís: 'I plan to stay at Chelsea'
March 29, 2015
17:55Leonardo concedes it “will be difficult” for him to return to Paris Saint-Germain
17:53Roberto Firmino's strike ensures victory for a poor Brazil against Chile
15:32Brazil x Chile: Live
14:30Chelsea's Filipe Luis: "Alexis Sanchez is really dangerous"
14:07Report: Expected Brazil line up for Chile friendly
13:59Chile Head Coach Jorge Sampaoli concedes he will have to rotate for Brazil friendly
13:17Lucas-Liverpool: "Philippe Coutinho could be anything he wants to be"
12:47Sampdoria forward Eder pleased to silence critics with debut Italy goal
March 28, 2015
20:30Arsenal centre-back Gabriel Paulista: "I want to defend and defend well"
19:57Dunga hails Chelsa's Willian as key player for Brazil
19:50Dunga: "Neymar to overhaul Pele's Brazil goal record"
19:45Dunga: "Players recuperate after 72 hours"
19:42Dunga: "No more new players for the Copa America"
19:32Lucas-Liverpool: "It will be just like old times again"
18:25Top European club chasing Chelsea Midfielder Oscar
April 01, 2015
13:45PSG eye Barcelona star Neymar as a replacement for Ibrahimović
13:42Danilo has earned his Real Madrid move, says Lopetegui
13:39Neymar responds to Medel's accusation of play acting - 'I don't know who Gary Medel is'
13:36Real Madrid confirm Danilo signing
13:33Neymar collects Samba Gold trophy
March 31, 2015
13:00Neymar closing in on Pelé
13:00Dunga praises attacking contribution of Chelsea's Willian
13:00Lucas Silva open to loan move from Real Madrid
13:00Neymar angered by rough treatment from Chile
13:00Dunga reveals the huge pressure in managing Seleção
March 30, 2015
13:16Liverpool's Glen Johnson can replace Dani Alves at Barcelona
13:14Brazil players are determined to make amends, says Dunga
13:12Third-party sent written demand to all parties and persons involved in Neymar deal
13:10Dani Alves: 'My heart is happy in Barcelona'
13:07Dunga: 'Neymar will be judged on World Cup wins'
March 28, 2015
13:25Barcelona president: 'We signed Neymar to be our Beckham'
13:20Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho says he must score more goals to be considered as one of the best midfielders in Europe
13:16Arsenal's Alexis Sánchez excited for Chile's special rematch against Brazil
13:14Dunga thinks Brazil have rediscovered their self-belief
13:12Barça president Bartomeu to Judge Ruz: 'Tito Vilanova asked us to sign Neymar a year earlier'
March 27, 2015
13:29Manchester United and Liverpool still battling for Dani Alves
13:27Pelé: 'Impossible for Neymar to replace me'
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13:22Dani Alves releases charity single with former Barcelona keeper José Pinto
13:20Victory over France not a revenge, says Neymar
March 26, 2015
13:35Dunga says 1998 World Cup final defeat to France still hurts
13:34Neymar won't convince Manchester United target Danilo to sign for Barcelona
13:32Philippe Coutinho says Liverpool have a good chance of securing a top-four
13:30Dunga says sky is the limit for Neymar
13:28Neymar's father defends Barcelona deal
March 25, 2015
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13:00Roberto Firmino set to start for Brazil against France
13:00Danilo proud of Real Madrid interest
13:00Neymar - The most expensive player in history?
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March 24, 2015
13:00Neymar looks forward to the friendly against France
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13:00Luis Suárez: 'Neymar is right to be selfish'
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13:00Neymar case - Public prosecutor requests prison sentence for Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu
March 23, 2015
13:00Liverpool landlord: 'I beat Pele - and bit him too!'
13:00Liverpool target Felipe Anderson's contract renewed by Lazio
13:00Dani Alves assists winning goal in El Clásico
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13:00Felipe Anderson: 'Lazio are improving every game'
March 21, 2015
13:00Arsenal want Charles Aránguiz from Internacional
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13:00Former West Brom striker faces ban after crossing Dani Alves' ex-wife
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13:00São Paulo trying to take Nathan from Atlético Paranaense
January 19, 2015
20:37Willian: 'Chelsea controlled the game'
January 11, 2015
19:49Coritiba confirm the signings of Negueba and Pedro Ken
17:17De Arrascaeta to Internacional can be announced any time now, says Defensor president
January 04, 2015
16:03Mircea Lucescu: Tour of Brazil will become part of Shakhtar history
15:08Lucescu: Shakhtar’s Brazil tour will be part of the history
January 03, 2015
12:16Sergei Palkin: It’s important for us to play with the top teams of the Brazilian league
January 02, 2015
16:49Cruzeiro confirm survey from Mexico regarding Anselmo Ramon
15:28Internacional have competition from Europe for De Arrascaeta
14:16No contacts with Internacional, says Sandro's agent
14:13Shakhtar goes on tour across Brazil
December 30, 2014
17:18Fluminense director says no offer for Darío Conca
December 25, 2014
14:37Leandro Damião to Cruzeiro is back on
June 26, 2014
14:33Report: Flamengo one of eight clubs who have enquired about loaning Internazionale midfielder Rubén Botta
June 16, 2014
11:35Brazil Head Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari backs Portugal to recovery from heavy Germany defeat
June 09, 2014
23:18Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne insists Italy’s poor defending in victory against Fluminense is “not important”
23:12Italy forward Ciro Immobile “excited” with hat-trick against Fluminense
22:56Italy Head Coach Cesare Prandelli pleased with Fluminense victory
22:52Italy Head Coach Cesare Prandelli delighted with Brazilian support
June 07, 2014
23:32Italy line up confirmed for Fluminense friendly
May 19, 2014
22:13Portugal Manager Paulo Bento names his 23-man 2014 FIFA World Cup squad
May 18, 2014
19:09Sambafoot Sunday: Botafogo's Shaky Start to 2014
April 13, 2014
08:34Sambafoot Sunday: Brazilian Clubs' Libertadores Numbers Game
April 06, 2014
09:20Sambafoot Sunday: Atlético Mineiro's Anelka Interest Should be the Norm
February 14, 2014
12:23Shakhtar Donetsk: President decided to support Maicon’s family
February 09, 2014
09:25Sambafoot Sunday: Where’s Wallyson? Botafogo find their new hero post-Seedorf
January 26, 2014
10:09Sambafoot Sunday: Cruciate curse affects Seleção hopes of three midfielders
December 01, 2013
13:36Sambafoot Sunday: Could Éverton Ribeiro Crack Europe?
November 25, 2013
11:39Brasileirão Week 36 round up: Vasco shock champions to stay in contention while defeat leaves Ponte Preta on the brink
November 24, 2013
10:17Sambafoot Sunday: Palmeiras Promoted with Chapecoense in Tow
November 17, 2013
12:00Palmeiras secure Brasileirão Série B title with 3-0 win against Boa Esporte
November 12, 2013
08:42Relegation threatened Fluminense sack head coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo
November 10, 2013
12:59Sambafoot Sunday: Atlético Paranaense's hurricane season
November 09, 2013
10:05Drummer angers Flamengo fans
November 04, 2013
13:04Brasileirão week 32 round-up: Big win for Vasco as in-form Goiás maintain top four push
November 03, 2013
17:31Sambafoot Sunday: Surprise Packages in the 2013 Brasileirão
October 28, 2013
11:31Brasileirão Week 31 round up: Vital win for Ponte Preta while Goiás maintain top four push
October 21, 2013
13:21Olympique Marseille without defender Lucas Mendes for Napoli fixture
12:12Injury rules Bayern Munich defender Dante out of Viktoria Plzeň tie
October 20, 2013
23:50São Paulo president Juvenal Juvêncio admits interest in Lucas Moura loan return
October 18, 2013
11:47Diego Maradona dispute’s Pelé’s FIFA recognition
09:04Del Bosque: Costa approach no insult to current strikers
October 17, 2013
21:43Hard work is paying off insists Bayern Munich defender Rafinha
13:17Rodrigo Lasmar: Ronaldinho on track to be fit for the Club World Cup
October 16, 2013
19:53Report: Tottenham Hotspur set to offer Paulinho extended deal
09:12Report: São Paulo could terminate Lúcio’s contract if injury concerns prevail
October 13, 2013
18:32Brasileirão: Grêmio slip up as Vitoria and Santos grab victories
14:49Vanderlei Luxemburgo: ‘Simulation part of football’
October 09, 2013
20:37Mineiro learn Club World Cup fate
October 06, 2013
22:39Oswaldo de Oliveira in hospital after Botafogo defeat
11:55Sambafoot Sunday: Cruzeiro cruising at the top of the Brasileirão
April 01, 2015
19:04Agent Stefano Castagna suggests Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool want Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto
19:00Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu praises counterpart Neto
18:51Agent Luciano Ramalho confirms Milan loanee Pablo Armero could move to Flamengo
March 31, 2015
08:02Report: Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United to compete for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino
07:22Report: Avellino's Rodrigo Ely and Livorno full-back Maicon turn down Italy to represent Brazil
March 30, 2015
15:50Hoffenheim forward Roberto Firmino hails Brazil Head Coach Dunga
March 29, 2015
17:55Leonardo concedes it “will be difficult” for him to return to Paris Saint-Germain
14:07Report: Expected Brazil line up for Chile friendly
13:59Chile Head Coach Jorge Sampaoli concedes he will have to rotate for Brazil friendly
12:47Sampdoria forward Eder pleased to silence critics with debut Italy goal
March 28, 2015
18:25Top European club chasing Chelsea Midfielder Oscar
17:15Chelsea star Ramires facing summer Stamford Bridge exit
March 25, 2015
17:17Report: Arsenal and Chelsea to battle over Internacional midfielder Charles Aranguiz
16:29Shakhtar Donetsk forward Luiz Adriano hints at December exit
15:56Sampdoria forward Eder believes controversy over Italy call up is "nonsense"
March 23, 2015
17:00FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio defends decision to select Sampdoria forward Eder for Italy
17:00Agent unhappy with controversy surrounding Sampdoria forward Eder's selection for Italy
March 22, 2015
15:28Corinthians Head Coach Tite hails defender Gil following Brazil call up
13:32Philippe Coutinho insists Liverpool "will do everything to come out victorious" against Manchester United
12:54Agent Andrea Bagnoli admits Italy call up is a "dream come true" for Sampdoria forward Éder
March 19, 2015
17:15Chelsea use former player Deco to sign Fluminense's star
March 18, 2015
14:05Report: Internazionale step up pursuit of Corinthians forward Paolo Guerrero
13:58Almeria loanee Wellington Silva confident of making an impression at Arsenal next season
13:54Report: Midfielder Wellington Silva in talks with Arsenal over new contract
March 17, 2015
21:48Manchester United have become latest English club to watch Roberto Firmino
20:45Twente almost signed Chelsea's Diego Costa
17:42Palmeiras Head Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira explains why midfielder Jorge Valdivia will not link up with Chile
17:37Lazio midfielder Felipe Anderson hopes for Brazil call up and closes in on new contract
17:28Lazio midfielder Felipe Anderson believes in Champions League qualification
March 16, 2015
12:33Intermediary Eduardo Valdes confirms Chelsea and Juventus interest in Fluminense forward Kenedy
12:23Intermediary Eduardo Valdes suggests São Paulo loanee Alexandre Pato will eventually move to England or Italy
March 15, 2015
21:10Report: Chelsea agree €25.3 million deal for Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Douglas Costa
21:05Report: Sampdoria forward Eder to be called up by Italy Head Coach Antonio Conte
March 13, 2015
17:08Report: Proposal made to add play-offs to Brasileirão campaign has presidential support
15:56Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho insists he missed Leicester City game due to injury and looks to Burnley
15:05Defender Felipe admits Internazionale move happened quickly
14:04Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho explains alleged altercation with captain Vincent Kompany
13:12Marcelo Fernandes named as new Santos Head Coach
March 11, 2015
16:52Report: Barcelona consider Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Douglas Costa as possible replacement for Pedro
15:38Corinthians Head Coach Tite believes goalkeeper Cássio Ramos deserves Brazil call up
14:43São Paulo loanee Alexandre Pato disappointed to be barred from playing against owners Corinthians
14:04Forward Luiz Adriano does not expect Shakhtar Donetsk to be intimidated when they face Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena
13:05Atlético de Madrid midfielder Cristian Rodríguez arrives in Brazil after agreeing to join Grêmio on loan
March 10, 2015
19:07Paris Saint-Germain manager Laurent Blanc wary of "provocative" Chelsea forward Diego Costa
17:42Report: Manchester United submit bid for Fluminense forward Kenedy
17:34Report: Roma defender Maicon could return for Europa League tie against Fiorentina
15:05EXCLUSIVE-Wellington Silva: "I am ready now to play for Arsenal"
March 08, 2015
21:24Report: Manchester United continue to push for Fluminense starlet Kenedy
21:16Santos loanee Robinho delighted to earn Brazil recall
21:11Parma loanee Cristian Rodriguez suggests he is set to move on to Gremio.
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