Old names star in Copa Libertadores
As the Copa Libertadores group stages reached its climax this week, some familiar names have starred thus far, ensuring their team’s progression to the last 16.
First up, and qualifying with the best record in the entire tournament, are Atlético Mineiro. Last year’s Copa Sul-Americana winners are led by a rejuvenated Ronaldinho who seems to have rediscovered his mojo (at club level, at least).
The goofy Brazilian has grinned his way through Group 3, scoring 3 goals and conjuring a tournament-leading 5 assists for his team-mates. The goal evoking memories of his playground-like play when he was at his impish-best for Barcelona.
Safely qualified, Atlético had the chance to knock-out Brazilian rivals, São Paulo, during their final group match. The Tricolor, whose midfield now contains Ganso (a former tournament winner with Santos), needed a victory in the fixture whilst hoping the result in the Group’s other game went their way.
Ganso, whose star has waned considerably since bursting on the scene alongside Neymar, produced one of his finest games since joining the club. The playmaker clashed with Ronaldinho (as much as playmakers can clash) on several occasions however this time, the languid fantasista came out on top, inspiring his side to a vital 2-0 win which ensured qualification.
To be fair to Ronaldinho and co, having already topped the group, their game lacked in intensity and ambition – which was even confirmed by the number 10 during a half-time interview when claiming the game was nothing more than a “big training session”.
Still, Atlético may rue their approach and the chance to dump out their rivals at the earliest opportunity; their opponents for the knock-out stages held next month? São Paulo.
Elsewhere, another playmaker in the twilight of his career is set to take part in the knock-out stages – Boca’s Juan Román Riquelme.
The slow-motion Argentine is still pulling the strings for last year’s runners-up, but their progression has been far from smooth and perhaps owes more to defensive solidarity. Some even feel the team are yet to recover from the defeat they suffered at the hands of Corinthians in last year’s final. Others insist that certain members of the Boca squad are unhappy at the influence the 34-year old Riquelme still exerts, having supposedly retired nine months earlier.
Boca needed to win their final group game to top Group 1, thus ensuring an easier fixture in the knock-out phases, however fell to a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Mexico’s Toluca – although Riquelme recorded his first assist in the tournament he’s already won on three occasions.
Despite their loss Riquelme’s Boca still progress, but now have the chance to avenge last season’s defeat, as they face…Corinthians.