WHEN CONMEBOL agreed to move the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, South America’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League, to Madrid, they not only solved an immediate logistical problem, they also have opened a door that could prove difficult to close.
By taking the final, a high-octane fixture between Buenos Aires’ rivals, River Plate and Boca Juniors, to one of the capitals of European football, they were also raising the profile of the competition. The game, which had been repeatedly postponed because of civil disturbance, probably benefitted from the negative publicity, even if Argentinian football was tainted by its inability to stage what many people were calling “the final to end all finals”. There’s no doubt the Copa Libertadores has the potential to become a global event that could enhance the image of South American club football and deliver multiple commercial and sporting opportunities.
The competition, established in 1960, has had a chequered history, but is among the world’s top footballing events. Yet outside South America, the Libertadores is still relatively under-exposed, despite the fact Latin Americans are resident all over the world. For example, there are almost 200,000 Latin Americans in the UK, 275,000 Brazilians in Japan and 250,000 Argentinians in Spain.
Twenty five different clubs have won the Copa Libertadores, 18 of which have come from Argentina and Brazil. Of the 59 finals, 43 have been won by clubs from the region’s big two. Uruguay has won eight titles, Paraguay three, Colombia three and Chile and Ecuador have all won the trophy once.
Among Argentina’s Copa-winning clubs is Independiente, who have been champions a record seven times. Boca Juniors have won six and River Plate and Estudiantes four apiece. In total, eight Argentinian clubs have won 25 Copa Libertadores.
Brazil’s 18 victories have been shared among 10 clubs, all of whom are members of the so-called Dos Grandes (the Big 12). Only two members of that group have not won the competition: Botafogo and Fluminense.
Unsurprisingly, the most common permutation for the final has been Argentina versus Brazil, which has happened 14 times.
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