Tuesday, January 28, 2014

South America's top competition kicks off tonight

Quietly and under the radar, the 55th edition of the Copa Libertadores kicks off tonight as 38 clubs fight to raise the continent's top trophy and succeed Brazil's Atletico Mineiro as champions. The competition is as pure as it gets but the glitz and glamour of Europe's Champions League is notably not as comparable in Libertadores. But trying convincing the press and the participating teams' fervent supporters that the Copa is not as relevant.

The preliminary phase, which involves 12 teams paired up for a home-and-away series, will begin tonight (6pm ET) in Bolivia as Oriente Petrolero hosts one of South America's traditional giants in Uruguay's Nacional, which should have been favorites to move on. Petrolero's fans, on the other hand, have reason to be ignited with confidence instead: some of Nacional's first-team regulars will be unable to partake in the competition as they were banned by Uruguay's civil court after a massive brawl in a friendly derby last week against rivals Penarol.

The Bolivians, which are already a couple of rounds into their domestic season, just hired 39-year-old Uruguayan Tabare Silva as their manager, and who better to tactically figure out countrymen than he. Look for Bolivian veteran centerback Ronaldo Raldes to guide his side as he returns to his country after a decade abroad.

In Mexico (8:15pm ET), Morelia welcomes Colombia's Independiente Santa Fe. The Mexicans named a new manager last night after kicking out their previous one via Twitter last week. Morelia has a tight schedule over the next week, with the two-legged Copa series and a league match against reigning Mexican champs Leon this weekend. Will they survive? The Mexicans have a nice quartet of South Americans in their books, including Ecuador national-team winger Jefferson Montero who will face off against his compatriot Edison Mendez.

Mendez is part of a major overhaul in Sante Fe, who made it all the way to the Copa semifinals last year. Fans are also happy that striker Jonathan Copete is back in Colombia after seven years abroad along with veteran Wilder Medina. 

Keep checking back for more updates and reviews for Copa Libertadores news.