After Carlos Tevez’s injury time winner against Athletico Paranaense last week ensured Boca Juniors progressed to the Copa Libertadores last 16 as group winners all eyes were set on the potential Superclásico that the 2019 knockout stage draw could produce. The afternoon dress rehearsal threw up not only another Boca Juniors against River Plate but an equally fiery Grenal between Porto Alegre rivals Grêmio and Internacional.
Thankfully perhaps, the main draw on Monday evening in Luque, Paraguay didn’t provide quite so much drama but that didn’t mean there are not some tantalising last 16 clashes to look forward to in the Copa Libertadores.
Champions River Plate were first to be drawn, after finishing runners up behind Internacional in Group A, and the result was a difficult tie against Cruzeiro. The Brazilians lost only once on the way to topping Group B, and are rightly among the favourites for the title but have a dreadful record against Argentine opposition.
Since beating River to lift their first Libertadores title in 1976, Cruzeiro have been knocked out on the eight subsequent times they have met an Argentine rival – Boca Juniors (1977, 2008, 2018), Estudiantes (2009), San Lorenzo (2914) and River (2015).
Hoping to end that streak, Cruzeiro face a tough task against a Marcelo Gallardo side that didn’t really impress in the group stage but who always seem to find a way when it comes to knockout competition.
Boca Juniors will be hoping that won’t be the case this year and while the two can’t meet again in the final, a potential Superclásico semi final is still on the cards. Firstly, Boca must get past Athletico Paranaense (again).
The pair met in Group G with Athletico heading for top spot after an earlier 3-0 win in Curitiba only for Tevez to snatch a dramatic late win in La Bombonera on the final day. Some debatable refereeing during the game led Athletico manager Tiago Nunes to angrily suggest that it’s impossible to win away to Boca without VAR so perhaps thankfully for the Brazilians, the knockout stages will have the benefit of video assistance.
Elsewhere, Godoy Cruz were also dealt a Brazilian last 16 tie and coming up against top seed Palmeiras, El Tomba will be huge underdogs. Lucas Bernardi’s side snatched second place in Group C behind Olimpia with a last day win over Universidad de Concepción but have struggled domestically.
As have San Lorenzo, who after a miserable run of form are in the process of firing manager Jorge Almirón despite their place in the knockout stages. El Ciclón have been drawn against their cyclonic namesakes Cerro Porteño after the Paraguayans impressively topped Group E ahead of Nacional de Uruguay and Atlético Mineiro.
With these ties scheduled for the end of July after the Copa América, much can change between now and then. Busy transfer windows will likely see the wealthier clubs bolster their squads for the Libertadores run in and so any predictions based solely on group form are largely futile.