Copa Libertadores Group Stage starts April 20
The 2021 Copa Libertadores group stage gets underway this week. You can watch the matches on the beIN Sports family of networks, which are available on Fanatiz. Use our Soccer Down Here affiliate link to get access to a free 7-day trial and also support SDH.
After three stages of qualifying, the final 32 teams have been determined. Palmeiras returns to defend their title, they defeated fellow Brazilian side Santos back in January to win the 2020 edition of the tournament.
The Copa Libertadores was established in 1960 and runs through a calendar year typically, with the final late in the year.
Argentine and Brazilian clubs have dominated the competition since the turn of the century with only Olimpia of Paraguay (2002), Once Caldas of Colombia (2004), LDU Quito of Ecuador (2008), and Atlético Nacional of Colombia (2016) breaking up the hegemony.
Here's a look at this year's groups:
The defending champions Palmeiras and the club that just defeated them for the Recopa Sudamericana (South American Super Cup) Defensa y Justicia are in the same group for what should be two intense matches. This could be the mythical Group of Death with Ecuadorian darlings Independiente del Valle and 2020 Peruvian runners-up Universitario rounding out the group.
Internacional, who last won the Libertadores in 2010 and finished second in Brazil's Serie A last season, head up Group B. Olimpia of Paraguay won the 2020 Clausura to qualify and will be expected to advance along with Internacional. Bolivian 2020 Apertura champions Club Always Ready and Venezuelan runners-up Deportivo Táchira will likely be fighting it out for the Copa Sudamericana slot.
Two heavyweights headline this group with Boca Juniors and Santos. Boca have been desperately seeking their first Libertadores trophy since 2007, going out in the semifinals last year. It was Santos who eliminated them 3-0 on aggregate. Don't rule out a surprise from Ecuador's LigaPro champions Barcelona, who will be favored to reach the Copa Sudamericana slot over Bolivian runners-up The Strongest.
2018 champions River Plate headline Group D and are starting to round into form in the Argentine Copa de la Liga. They start their Libertadores campaign in Brazil against 2008 runners-up Fluminense. Two Colombian sides round out the group, Primera A runners-up Independiente Santa Fe and Junior de Barranquilla who advanced through the qualification phase.
After winning the Copa Sudamericana with Defensa y Justicia, Hernan Crespo took his talents to Brazilian giants São Paulo. They'll start their campaign on Tuesday in Lima against Peruvian champions Sporting Cristal. 1967 Libertadores champions Racing will travel to Uruguay to face the surprising Primera runners-up Rentistas in their first match.
One of the more wide-open groups in the competition is this one. Argentinos Juniors, who won the Libertadores in 1985, will get things started on Tuesday when they host Uruguayan champions Nacional. 2016 Libertadores champions Atlético Nacional will welcome Chilean champions Universidad Católica to Colombia on Thursday night.
2019 champions Flamengo will be expected to advance in this group, they start their campaign in Buenos Aires against Vélez Sarsfield on Tuesday night. The Chilean runners-up Unión La Calera will try to get their campaign started on the right foot Wednesday night against Ecuadorian runners-up LDU Quito.
Atlético Mineiro finished in third place in the Brazilian Serie A last season, which booked their spot in this year's Copa Libertadores. They will open their campaign in Venezuela against the Primera Division champions Deportivo La Guaira on Wednesday. 4-time Libertadores runners-up América de Cali will host 2020 Paraguayan Apertura champions Cerro Porteño on Wednesday night.