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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October 20, 2013
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October 04, 2013
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September 14, 2013
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September 07, 2013
14:12Atlético Madrid's Filipe Luis: Barca-Madrid dominance an injustice
September 06, 2013
19:04Santos announce tour of South East Asia
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September 05, 2013
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September 03, 2013
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September 02, 2013
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November 25, 2014
18:04Report: Internazionale eager to sign Cruzeiro midfielder Lucas Silva in January transfer window
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08:37Corinthians forward Alexandre Pato open to Serie A return
November 24, 2014
22:27Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho defends Diego Costa's Spain absence
22:21Roma Head Coach Rudi Garcia confirms Maicon will miss CSKA Moscow clash
10:30Maicon fails to make Roma squad for CSKA Moscow clash
November 23, 2014
22:44Napoli Sporting Director Riccardo Bigon seemingly confirms links with Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva
22:44Goalkeeper Diego Alves confident Valencia can respond quickly after Levante defeat
22:43Real Madrid defender Marcelo refuses to drawn on Xabi Alonso's Ballon d'Or comments
November 22, 2014
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22:23Captain Francesco Totti dedicates Roma's 2-1 win over Atalanta to injured defender Leandro Castan
22:09Fenerbahçe play-maker Diego willing to adapt despite desire to be a "true number ten"
November 21, 2014
23:40Marcelo praises Real Madrid Head Coach Carlo Ancelotti
23:36Real Madrid defender Marcelo hails team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo
23:27Roma Head Coach Rudi Garcia confident that Maicon will soon be back
23:21Rom Head Coach Rudi Garcia unsure when Leandro Castan will return
November 17, 2014
22:24Agent Bayram Dağdeviren claims Galatasaray tried to sign Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos in 2012
22:19Kaká confident Milan will win Derby della Madonnina despite Roberto Mancini's return to Internazionale
November 15, 2014
22:39Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos concedes Ronaldinho was "virtually unstoppable at his best"
16:33Report: Internazionale trio Hernanes, Jonathan and Juan Jesus left in tears following dismissal of Head Coach Walter Mazzarri
15:46Getafe loanee Naldo eager to learn in La Liga and impressed with defenders Alexis and Emiliano Velázquez
November 14, 2014
22:53FC Goa Head Coach Zico confident ISL will help develop football in India
22:42Corinthians Director of Football Edu talks up possible loan move for Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho
22:34Representative Taciano Pimenta claims Manchester United have enquired about Atlético Paranaense forward Douglas Coutinho
15:01Chelsea's Diego Costa and Querétaro forward Camilo Sanvezzo nominated for 2014 FIFA Puskás Award
November 13, 2014
22:10FC Goa manager Zico "very happy" with 4-1 win over Delhi Dynamos
22:03Ederson confident Lazio can surprise Juventus when they meet after the international break
21:59Ederson happy to play in any position for Lazio
November 12, 2014
15:57Galatasaray defender Alex Telles admits frustration over lack of playing time
15:51Galatasaray defender Alex Telles denies he has offers from Real Madrid and Sevilla
15:33Report: Roma weighing up move for Grêmio owned forward Marcelo Moreno
November 11, 2014
21:16Marco van Basten hails Barcelona forward Neymar
November 10, 2014
22:02Report: Arsenal lead Chelsea and Manchester United in race to sign Benfica midfielder Talisca
21:49Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho hails Brazil's self-belief after strong start under Head Coach Dunga
21:43FC Goa manager Zico confident of making the play-offs despite being bottom of the Indian Super League
21:41FC Goa manager Zico hopes André Santos is fit for Delhi Dynamos clash and wishes he could bring more Brazilians to the ISL
November 08, 2014
22:53Chelsea manager José Mourinho admits Ramires "played injured" in 2-1 win over Liverpool
17:05Elche manager Fran Escribá compares forward Jonathas to Chelsea's Diego Costa
16:36Atlético Mineiro forward Diego Tardelli handed four match ban for abusing referee Elmo Alves Resende Cunha in 1-1 draw at Bahia
15:55Internazionale owned defender Álvaro Pereira wants São Paulo stay
November 07, 2014
22:25Paris Saint-Germain defender David Luiz targeting extended Champions League run
21:24Defender Danilo pleased with Porto's early qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages
20:47Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva claims Napoli are still interested in signing him
November 05, 2014
22:15Report: Juventus lead Liverpool and Manchester United in race to sign Cruzeiro midfielder Everton Ribeiro
15:30Benfica Head Coach Jorge Jesus hails midfielder Talisca following his winning goal in Tuesday's 1-0 victory over Monaco
15:22Adriano praises Paris Saint-Germain forward Zlatan Ibrahimović and hopes he can quickly recovery from injury setback
15:09Report: Free agent Cristian Baroni set for Corinthians return
November 04, 2014
22:50Maribor defender Arghus: Chelsea "don't have any weaknesses"
22:34Atlético Mineiro release Brazil international Jô following "serious" breach of team rules
10:27Adriano "99 percent" certain he will sign for Ligue 2 outfit Le Havre
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