Copa Libertadores – What is it?

Copa Libertadores – What is it?

For those who are not fans of South American football, the Copa Libertadores is the pinnacle of club football competition and very much the equivalent to the UEFA Champions League in Europe in stature. We have decided to give you all a quick guide into a tournament that is rich in history and popularity and has seen some of the worlds biggest South American talents emerge from!

What is the Copa Libertadores?:

The CONMEBOL Libertadores, named as Copa Libertadores de América (Portuguese: Copa Libertadores da América or Taça Libertadores da América), is an annual international club football competition organized by CONMEBOL since 1960. It is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and the most prestigious club competition in South American football. The tournament is named in honour of the Libertadores (Spanish and Portuguese for liberators), the main leaders of the South American wars of independence, the literal translation of its name into English would be “Liberators of America Cup” or “Liberators of the Americas Cup“.

Who has won the most trophies?

Argentine club Independiente have won 7 titles closely followed by Boca Juniors with 7 and Uruguay’s Penarol with 5.

Is it structured like the UEFA Champions League?

The format has changed several times over the years but we will describe the latest format in 2017 the tournament expanded from 38 teams to 47 teams. With three qualifying rounds before the actual group stage, similar to the UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. The tournament runs from February to November before it was February to July. So essentially out of the 47 teams, 28 qualify directly while the other 19 to this via the qualifying rounds with only 4 teams making into the group stages.

The group stage feels familiar because it is now 32 teams broken into 8 groups just like the UEFA Champions League with the top 2 teams making it the next round and the third-place teams defaulting to the Copa Sudamericana.

The round of 16 is where it gets a bit different, Like the UEFA Champions League, the 8 games are played in a single bracket format for the knock out stages. All the knockout matches are two-legged matches which go all the way to the finals. The higher seeded teams hosting the second match. Away goals rule applies and if tied they go straight to penalties to decide the winner.

The final is played over two legs. Away goals do not matter and if tied on aggregate then the winner is decided by a shootout.

How popular is it?

For fans of South American fans, this would seem like a blasphemous question, However, this tournament is the most important tournament in South America and has a massive history with some of the legends of the game participating and is tremendously prestigious in nature. The history of this tournament is an entire topic by itself but it has a fanatical following and is respected worldwide.  Clubs such as Independiente, Boca Juniors, Penarol, Germio, Santos just to name a few are legendary in status. Depending on who you ask some hold the competition in higher regard than the UEFA Champions League. In terms of quality of players that can be argued due to South America players being sold at a much younger age to Europe now, but the unpredictable, fiery nature of the tournament is still as addictive as ever.

Brazilain born Portuguese midfielder Deco who has won 2 UEFA Champions League titles with Porto and Barcelona respectively said that he would trade both those trophies for a Copa Libertadores trophy.

Geographically the games are so far apart and have varied environments such as ultra-high altitudes.  There is such a contrast in physical environments that you will not see in competitions like the UEFA Champions League. Combine this with the fiery nature of the fans who are the most passionate and flamboyant in the world it is undeniable. The chant from all fans and all teams “La Copa Libertadores és mi obsesión” is a true indicator of the power of this tournament!

Who was the last Winner?

The winner of the Copa Libertadores 2017 was Gremio of Brazil with their 3rd title.

Have Copa Libertadores Winners ever played the Uefa Champions League winners?

Yes! A competition called the Intercontinental Cup which was started in 1960 up until 2004, where the European Champions played the champions of South America. The competition was endorsed by both the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) and, until 1979, it was played over two legs. From 1980, its format was changed to a single match traditionally held in Tokyo, Japan, due to its new sponsorship. The FIFA World cup had launched in 2000 but then it was stopped resumed 2005 which includes the champion clubs from all of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) member confederations. Some famous matches in recent years include Independiente vs Juventus, Boca Juniors vs AC Milan, Real Madrid vs Boca Juniors just to name a few. Before it was changed to the FIFA Club World Cup South America won 22 and Europe won 21. One of the most memorable games in recent times was when a Real Madrid side boasting the Galacticos such as Raul, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos were defeated 2-1 by a Boca Juniors side with the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme and the man of the match Martin Palermo. Boca Juniors also defeated the all-powerful AC Milan with likes of Andrea Pirlo, Maldini, Kaka, Cafu in their primes in the 2003 edition. These are just some examples of the South American teams made excellent accounts of themselves against top-class European opposition.


With Boca Juniors, AC Milan and Real Madrid winning three each.  In the Fifa Club World Cup format, Europe has won more with the most successful clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona dominating with three each. Many arguing that due to the drastic financial dominance of European football that the tournament itself which includes teams from other confederations don’t stand a chance.

There you have it, of course, a simple Q & A will definitely not cover the great history that is the Copa Libertadores. This is merely a quick guide into what is a much larger universe from the perspective of football. It is definitely something anyone who is a fan of football should give a look if you have not already!

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