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The Quest for Eternal Glory in the CONMEBOL Libertadores

 

The 2020 CONMEBOL Libertadores resumes today. Only two matchdays of the group stage were played before the competition was temporarily suspended in March due to the pandemic. On the cusp of its resumption, Stats Perform is on hand to provide you with a data-driven introduction to the tournament.

By: Augusto Rammauro

The last game before the 2020 Copa Libertadores was brought to a halt was certainly one that would linger in the memory. Similar to scenes in Paris from last weekend night, the Porto Alegre derby between Gremio and Internacional descended into chaos with a mass brawl erupting on the sidelines in the games’ dying stages. Eight players were sent off, the second-highest total seen in Copa Libertadores history. Although it made for explosive viewing, the game had a long way to go to match the record, set in 1971, when 19 players were sent off in a match between Boca Juniors and Sporting Cristal, in La Bombonera.

DRAWING COMPARISONS WITH THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Often viewed as the Champions League of South America, the Copa Libertadores is one of the top continental competitions of the footballing world. The tournament has been played annually since 1960, and 25 teams have managed to lift the legendary trophy.

Six teams have won it for the first time this century: Internacional (2006 and 2010), Once Caldas (2004), LDU Quito (2008), Corinthians (2012), Atlético Mineiro (2013) and San Lorenzo (2014).

In comparison, the Champions League has been played since 1955, has been won by 22 teams. Just one of those sides has won it for the first this century: Chelsea, in 2011/12.

Both competitions have their fair share of losing finalists. 18 teams have reached the Copa Libertadores final without winning it. Among them are América de Cali, four times runners-up, who incredibly lost three consecutive finals in 1985, 1986 and 1987. They then lost in the final again in 1996.

The same can be said for Europe’s premium club competition. 19 teams have reached the Champions League final without winning it. The record for the most-unlucky losers belongs to Atlético de Madrid, who reached the final in 1973/74, 2013/14 and 2015/16, losing all three.

While both tournaments are among the top continental competitions, there are huge differences in the style of football played in South America compared to Europe. Many reasons account for this; budgets, infrastructure, development, culture are all widely different and so is the simple fact that the best players choose to leave South America to continue their careers in more competitive leagues, where clubs have greater purchasing power.

The table below shows a comparison between the last Champions League campaign and the last complete edition of the Copa Libertadores in 2019. It highlights some key differing characteristics.

There were 33% more goals per game in the 2019/20 Champions League than in the 2019 Copa Libertadores. Also, on average, 208 more passes per game were completed in the UCL.

If goals is your thing, then the Champions League is the competition to watch. However, the passion associated with the Copa Libertadores also brings its own, unique excitement. As the disciplinary stats above show, while in the 2019/20 Champions League there was a red card every six games, in the 2019 Copa Libertadores there was one in every three. This difference is even starker when comparing straight red cards: one in every 17 Champions League games, and one in every five Copa Libertadores games.

Last year, the CONMEBL Libertadores saw an average of 30 fouls per game, 20% more than in the Champions League.

HISTORICAL WINNERS

Argentina has provided more sides that have won the competition that any other nation, while Brazilian teams have accumulated 19 trophies between them, a figure that all other Copa nations combined fall short of.

Copa Libertadores Winners List

CountryTitles WonFinals Played% Finals WonDifferent ChampionsMost Titles WonLast Title Won
Argentina253768%8Independiente (7)River Plate (2018)
Brazil193456%10Santos, Gremio & Sao Paulo (3)Flamengo (2019)
Uruguay81650%2Peñarol (5)Nacional (1988)
Colombia31030%2Atlético Nacional (2)Atlético Nacional (2016)
Paraguay3838%1Olimpia (3)Olimpia (2002)
Chile1617%1Colo-Colo (1)Colo-Colo (1991)
Ecuador1425%1Liga de Quito (1)Liga de Quito (2008)
Mexico*030%0--
Peru020%0--
Venezuela00-0--
Bolivia00-0--
*Mexican teams played between 1998 and 2016

Independiente, aptly nicknamed “Rey de Copas” (King of Cups), have won the most Copa Libertadores titles, lifting the trophy in each of the seven occasions they reached the final.

Four of the five teams to have won the most Copa Libertadores titles are Argentinian. The other team in that top five is Peñarol, the first-ever winners of the competition, who lifted the trophy for the last time in 1987.

Most Decorated Clubs - Copa Libertadores

TeamCountryTitles WonRunners Up% Finals Won
IndependienteArgentina70100%
Boca JuniorsArgentina6555%
PeñarolUruguay5550%
River PlateArgentina4357%
Estudiantes de La PlataArgentina4180%
GrêmioBrazil3260%
NacionalUruguay3350%
OlimpiaParaguay3443%
Sao PauloBrazil3350%
SantosBrazil3175%

RECENT TRENDS

Flamengo are the reigning champions, having come from behind to pull off a historic comeback against River Plate in the 2019 final, the first final in history to be one-legged. After going 1-0 down early in the first half, ‘El Mengão’ managed to turn defeat into victory with two last-gasp goals by Gabriel Barbosa, ‘Gabigol’: one in the 89th minute and another one three minutes later.

Recent history tells us a clear trend: Brazilian teams are dominating the competition. Of the last 28 Copa Libertadores campaigns, 14 were won by teams from Brazil. Argentinian teams won 10 of the remaining 14.

Brazilian and Argentinian clubs are clearly the powerhouses of the competition. In 21 of the 28 finals since 1992 there was at least one Brazilian team present, and in only one of the finals were there no Argentine or Brazilian teams represented (2016, when Atlético Nacional (Colombia) beat Independiente del Valle (Ecuador).

We’ll have to wait a couple of months to see if the trend continues this year. The Argentine league has been suspended since March, so the teams will resume the 2020 Copa Libertadores after almost six months out. In Brazil, the competition restarted a lot sooner and so sides have already played through 10 matchdays since the beginning of August. Will that momentum give the Brazilian sides the edge when the competition nears its conclusion? Time will tell.


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