With River Plate currently in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, Boca Juniors still quietly fuming over defeat and the bad taste of the 2018 Copa Libertadores still in the back of the throat, it will take a while longer for this year’s shambolic tournament to be forgotten. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop CONMEBOL pressing ahead with the draw for 2019 and there is little time to waste given that the preliminary rounds begin in less than one month.
The three first round matches for the 2019 Copa Libertadores are scheduled to start on January 22nd before the Copa Sudamericana gets underway in February and the Libertadores group stage begins in March.
CONMEBOL president Alejandro Domínguez announced that the prize-money for 2019 is greater than ever, doubling from $6 million to $12 million for the winners, with the tournament switching to a one-match final in Santiago rather than two legs to attempt to appeal to a European audience.
However, the much criticised head of South American football also called for an end to the crowd trouble that prompted CONMEBOL to make the controversial decision to play the second leg of the final in Madrid.
The fact that the Superclásico between River Plate and Boca Juniors went ahead without further issue in Spain has only strengthened CONMEBOL’s plan to scrap the traditional two-legged affair and so the two finalists in 2019 will head to Santiago on November 23rd to contest the continent’s greatest prize.
It could be River Plate versus Boca Juniors once more as the two giants were among the seven Argentinian representatives in the Copa Libertadores draw on Monday evening.
Holders River were handed a potentially tricky group alongside Brazilian club Internacional, who have bounced back from their relegation in 2016, Peruvians Alianza Lima and one of the qualifiers – Palestino, Independiente Medellín, Talleres or three-time champions São Paulo, who provide La T with the hardest possible route to the group stage.
Boca, on the other hand, will be relatively satisfied with the clubs who join them in Group G – Atlético Paranaense are the only Brazilian club in the draw yet to lift the Libertadores but come in as Copa Sudamericana champions while Bolivian champions Jorge Wilstermann and Colombian Apertura winners Deportes Tolima complete what should be a straight-forward enough first stage for Los Xeneizes.
Outside of Argentina’s big two, it is more difficult to see from where else the country could have success after something of an eclectic mix of sides reaching the 2019 Libertadores.
San Lorenzo are the only other traditional grande in the draw but aside from not only hoping that the recently appointed Jorge Almirón can turn things around after a poor last six months or so, El Ciclón have also been handed the closest thing to this year’s ‘Group of death’. Brazilian champions Palmeiras, the impressive Junior fresh from their run to the Sudamericana final and one of the qualifiers, potentially Universidad de Chile.
The surprise runners-up in the Superliga last season, Godoy Cruz return to the Libertadores and will be boosted by a kind draw that presents a real opportunity to reach the knockout stages – Paraguayan champions Olimpia, Peruvian Torneo Descentralizado winners Sporting Cristal and Chilean club Universidad de Concepción.
In the same group as Copa do Brasil champions Cruzeiro, the rest of Group B will likely be battling it out for the second spot in the next round – Huracán along with Emelec and Deportivo Lara. El Globo may not be as strong as they were a few years back when they reached the Sudamericana final but Gustavo Alfaro has his side well organised and perhaps capable of a shock.
Edgardo Bauza will also be hoping that he can inspire Rosario Central to success after finally lifting the Copa Argentina but adding to his two Libertadores titles looks a big ask. Struggling in the league El Canalla face 2017 champions Grêmio, Chilean Primera winners Universidad Católica and one of the qualifiers, potentially Atlético Nacional or Libertad.