Goals that changed everything at the last minute, underdogs that qualified, favourites that crashed out, rumbles on and off the pitch and even a tragedy -- a Bolivian boy was killed by a mortar as he was on the stands. Group stage at the 2013 Libertadores Cup, South America's most prestigious club competition, has nothing of the UEFA Champions League's early boredom. Last night the ties for the round-of-16 were decided and big thrillers will be on two weeks from now.
Brazilian giants Corinthians won their first title in 2012 after beating legendary Boca Juniors. Now the FIFA Club World Cup winners will decide a place in the quarter-finals at home. They are even more powerful: not only have they kept midfielder Paulinho, but also brought in AC Milan's Alexandre Pato and Peruvian Paolo Guerrero. The six-time South American champions from Buenos Aires had difficulties to go through and still rely on 34-year-old Juan Roman Riquelme.
Last year's final
Another eye-catching clash will be between Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro, the best team in the competition so far, and three-time champions Sao Paulo. After a fine display by Paulo Henrique Ganso, the Paulistas beat Mineiro at home 2-0 and secured a place in the play-offs. Ronnie has never won that tournament and Atletico's fate in the Libertadores Cup will play a heavy role on whether he will be in Brazil for the World Cup or not. His club hasn't won big trophies in 40 years.
Sao Paulo 2 x 0 Atletico Mineiro
All six Brazilian teams qualified for the play-offs. Eduardo Vargas' Gremio will play Colombian Santa Fe. Brazilian champions Fluminense face Emelec, from Ecuador. Even Palmeiras, relegated in the last Brazilian league, went through. The Brazilian Cup winners will play Tijuana -- a recent-born Mexican club whose owner is accused of having ties to drug trafficking and play on a pitch that is not really acceptable for football -- maybe it is for American football.
Tijuana 1 x 0 Millonarios
Five-time champions Penarol, stylish Universidad de Chile and Paraguay's Libertad -- which is owned by the president of Conmebol, Nicolas Leoz -- crashed out in the group stage. Libertad's exit was the most shocking: they lost 5-3 at home to Argentina's Tigre, considered by many experts as one of the worst teams in the whole competition. Tigre are through to play three-time champions Olimpia, also from Paraguay and the second best in the tournament so far. If Libertad hadn't scored in the last minute, it would be Tigre to play Tijuana.
Libertad 3 x 5 Tigre
Another shock is Peru's Real Garcilaso, a recently founded club which will play traditional Nacional, from Uruguay. Newell's Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield will play the Argentinian clash in the round-of-16. The winner will take-on whoever survives the Corinthians vs Boca Juniors clash.
These are the playoffs in the South America Libertadores Cup, which are decided in two legs. The first will play the decider at home:
Atletico Mineiro (BRA) vs Sao Paulo FC (BRA)
Tijuana (MEX) vs Palmeiras (BRA)
Corinthians (BRA) vs Boca Juniors (ARG)
Velez (ARG) vs Newell's (ARG)
Santa Fe (COL) vs Gremio (BRA)
Nacional (URU) vs Real Garcilaso (PER)
Olimpia (PAR) vs Tigre (ARG)
Fluminense (FLU) vs Emelec (ECU)