Copa Libertadores shake up could spell the end for Sudamericana
A strong field go into the quarterfinals of the Copa Sudamericana, South America's Europa League equivalent, but the future of the competition looks a little uncertain.
Three teams from Colombia, two from Brazil and one each from Argentina, Chile and Paraguay make up the last eight. Included among them are the reigning continental champions, Atletico Nacional of Colombia, who won the Copa Libertadores in July. The previous winners, San Lorenzo of Argentina, are also present, along with Cerro Porteno, the most popular club in Paraguay.
These three giant clubs have all taken part this year in both of South America's club competitions. Nacional, of course, won the Libertadores. San Lorenzo made a poor defence of their crown, falling in the group phase. Cerro Porteno went a little further, qualifying for the second round before going out to Boca Juniors of Argentina. Cerro Porteno, though, have not had to wait long for their chance to achieve the club's dream and finally get their hands on an international trophy.
In future years, though, they will not get two bites at the cherry. CONMEBOL, the South American Confederation, is reorganising its international competitions. As it stands, the year is divided into two semesters. The Copa Libertadores, by far the main event, is played in the first. The Sudamericana, by some distance the second cup, takes place in the second.
Starting from next year they will both be played together. The Libertadores will go all year, from February to late November. The Sudamericana will start in June and go through to December. The clear, and stated objective, is to earn more revenue. But it is unclear how the Sudamericana can survive in this new format.
Europe, of course, plays its two competitions at the same time. But Europe has a lot more money, many more countries and a consolidated culture of simultaneous international competitions.
Under the current format, the Sudamericana has two advantages. First, it has the stage to itself. Additionally, while it primarily exists to widen participation to include smaller clubs, it can count on the likes of Atletico Nacional, San Lorenzo and Cerro Porteno to give it some quality and exposure.
It will now lose both of these. It will no longer be possible to do what these three clubs, and others, have done -- take part in both competitions. The aim will clearly be to get into the Libertadores. The Sudamericana becomes nothing more than a consolation prize for those who fail to make it to the Libertadores or those eliminated in its brief qualifying round.
The Sudamericana, then, will lose some quality at the very moment when it has to compete with the Libertadores, now that the competitions will be played together. It is not yet clear how the division will be organised -- whether, like Europe, Tuesday and Wednesday will be for the Libertadores and Thursday for the Sudamericana -- or whether the two will be kept apart in separate weeks.
But one thing is certain: The Libertadores will gobble up the vast majority of attention. Will enough be left for the Sudamericana to survive?
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.