While the action in the group stages might not start for a few months, the first round of qualifying for the 2018 Copa Libertadores begins next month and so the countdown has officially begun. Seven Argentine clubs were involved and although Banfield will need to progress through two rounds of playoff matches, for the six other Superliga clubs, their groups became clearer.
League champions Boca Juniors were drawn in group eight and have a tantalising fixture against Brazilian giants Palmeiras, a side with whom they share a rivalry in the competition from 2000 and 2001, in addition to Peruvian champions Alianza Lima and one of the playoff winners. This will be one of Carabobo, Guaraní, Junior (which could see a return to La Bombonera of Boca enemy Teo Gutiérrez, Olimpia or Montevideo Wanderers.
Rivals River Plate also have a group that could have been easier after also being pitted against Brazilian opposition. Los Millonarios face Copa Sudamericana runners-up Flamengo, Ecuadorian champions Emelec and one of the playoff winners. The identity of that side will come from one of the following five: Macará, Táchira, Independiente Santa Fe, Santiago Wanderers or Melgar.
New director of football Diego Milito was in Asunción for the draw for Racing Club and saw his side drawn with Cruzeiro (another Argentina-Brazil clash), Chilean Clausura champions Universidad de Chile and another of the playoff winners. And this is where La Academia’s group could get very tricky as one of Oriente Petrolero, Universitario, Jorge Wilstermann, Universidad Concepción or Vasco da Gama.
Independiente were rocked by the news that manager Ariel Holan was leaving earlier in the day but learned their group after sealing their return with Copa Sudamericana victory last week. The daunting task of Brazilian champions Corinthians lies ahead and completing group seven are Colombians Millonarios, managed by Argentinian coach Miguel Angel Russo, and Venezuelans Deportivo Lara.
Estudiantes make up the fifth Argentinian-Brazilian clash in group six after drawing Santos and completing the quartet will be Peruvian runners-up Real Garcilaso and one of the playoff winners. Either Chapecoense, Nacional, Banfield (Argentina’s seventh representative) or Independiente del Valle.
And finally Atlético Tucumán were drawn in group three with Uruguayan champions Peñarol, Paraguayan Apertura champions Libertad & Bolivian 2016 Apertura champions The Strongest.
The first round of playoffs begin on January 22nd and all three rounds will be completed a month later, allowing the group stages to begin during the last week of February.
As it was this year the Copa Libertadores will run all year and so the group stages will go until May before resuming for the knockout stages in August and the final taking place in November.