Barcelona may well have ruthlessly exposed South America’s premier club competition as the significantly poorer relation of the Champions League after their victory against River Plate in Japan but there is still a sense of excitement when the Copa Libertadores returns. On Tuesday evening in Paraguay the draw for the 2016 edition took place and all six Argentine clubs discovered where on the vast continent the tournament would take them.
Holders River Plate escaped from their group in remarkable fashion en route to lifting the trophy and so will not take any group lightly but Marcelo Gallardo can perhaps be more relieved than the other Argentine clubs with the hand Los Millonarios were dealt. Joining River in Group One are The Strongest of Bolivia, Trujillanos of Venezuela and the winner of the playoff between Peru’s Universidad César Vallejo and Brazil’s São Paulo.
Boca Juniors return to the Libertadores after their disgraceful exit in 2015 following the attack on River Plate’s players and have been given a substantially more testing group than the previous year, where they secured a 100% record. Tricky away trips to Bolivian champions, Bolívar and Colombian champions, Deportivo Cali could pose problems but most interestingly of all, Los Xeneizes will be joined by Racing Club, should La Academia get past Mexican side Puebla in their playoff. Facundo Sava, the new Racing coach, knows that his side will be favourites in this tie and failure to reach the group stage would be a massive early blow to his career.
San Lorenzo were unfortunate enough to be drawn in a devilishly difficult group in 2015 and as a result were eliminated at the first hurdle; in 2016 their luck hasn’t changed a great deal and Los Cuervos have arguably found themselves in the ‘group of death’. Two Brazilian sides in 2015 have been replaced by Grêmio in 2016 and joining them are two awful away fixtures. Liga de Quito present the typical Libertadores issue with playing at altitude and Liga MX side Toluca is the farthest trip of any side in the tournament. New San Lorenzo boss, Pablo Guede got some decent experience with Palestino in 2015 but will be under pressure here to qualify for the knockout stages.
Rosario Central’s return to the Copa Libertadores pits Eduardo Coudet’s side against Nacional of Uruguay, Palmeiras of Brazil and the winner of River Plate of Uruguay and Universidad de Chile. Blessed with relatively short travel times, it could have been worse for Central although they will need to keep their squad together and notably sign Marco Ruben on a permanent basis to stand a chance in the tournament.
Finally, Huracán return to the Libertadores for a second consecutive year after their impressive run in the Copa Sudamericana. First they must find a way past Caracas but should they line-up in Group Four, they will meet Peñarol, Atlético Nacional and Sporting Cristal. Colombian Torneo Finalización champions Nacional will be a tough opponent to break down but El Globo will be hopeful they can go one better than in 2015.