The Copa Libertadores

Sun, Jul 22 2012


While last week's piece was dedicated to the FlaFlu derby, I neglected to even mention that a Brazilian team had won the Copa Libertadores.


On 4 July, Corinthians beat Boca Juniors 2-0 at Pacaembu - their São Paulo home, with Emerson Sheik, so-called because of a spell in Qatar which led to him playing for their national side, grabbing both the goals.  The week previously, they had gone to the infamous La Bombonera in Buenos Aires and came away with a 1-1 draw.  Corinthians won the final 4-1, instead of 3-1, as the Copa Libertadores knockout stages are decided on points, not goals.  Corinthians also won the title without losing a single game.


It was the first Copa Libertadores title for Corinthians, who are also the reigning Brazilian champions.  Corinthians are generally seen as the second biggest club in Brazil, after Flamengo.  Their nickname, Timão (Big Team), reflects this.  Despite their popularity, they have struggled for success beyond a local scale.  


They are the team with the most wins in the Paulista Championship, the competition organised for São Paulo state, with 26 successes.  However, it wasn't until 1990, eighty years after they were founded, that they won a national title: the Brazilian league.  This started a relatively successful period for them as they would go on to capture three more Brazilian titles, two Brazilian cups and the FIFA World Club Cup in the next fifteen years.


However, the unimaginable struck and in 2007, just two years after their last league win with a side that included Carlos Tevez, they were relegated from Serie A - the top division of Brazilian football, for the first time.  


They bounced back immediately, winning Serie B by 17 points.  Since returning to Serie A in 2009, they have competed at the top end of the table and last year the glory days returned as they sealed a fifth title on the final day.  However, their run in the Libertadores has taken its toll on their league form.  They are currently 14th after nine games and already fourteen points off the top in the defence of their title.


Corinthians success in the Copa Libertadores saw them eliminate two Brazilian clubs, Vasco da Gama and Santos, on their way.  Their opponents in the final had also knocked out Fluminense in the quarter-finals.  With four teams in the quarter-finals and five in the round of 16, Brazil was the best represented country in the knockout stages of this year's tournament.


Although by far a giant in most matters of South America, Brazilian teams have never been among the most successful in the Copa Libertadores.  In 53 editions, nine Brazilian teams have won 16 editions of the Copa Libertadores.  Meanwhile, seven Argentinian teams have 22 combined wins.  Even Uruguay, a country fifty times smaller than Brazil, has won eight titles from just two clubs.


However, Corinthians victory is indicative of a possible move towards Brazilian dominance.  A Brazilian team has won the title in each of the last three years.  In the last eight editions, a Brazilian team has won five times and have been the defeated finalist in each of the years where a Brazilian team didn't win.


It bodes well for the 2014 World Cup.