Velez leads Argentine clubs in Copa Libertadores
SAO PAULO (AP) — Velez Sarsfield finished with the best record in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, leading three other Argentine clubs into the second round.
Three Brazilian teams, including defending champion Atletico Mineiro, led by Ronaldinho, also advanced in Latin America’s top club competition.
The group stage ended Thursday with Paraguayan club Nacional and Colombian team Nacional de Medellin grabbing the last two spots in the round of 16.
It is the first time in more than 10 years that Brazil doesn’t have the most teams in the second round. Brazilian clubs have won the competition four straight years and reached the final nine consecutive times.
Argentina is looking to win the tournament for the first time since Estudiantes lifted the trophy in 2009.
Velez Sarsfield won five of its six group matches. The only loss came in the high altitude of La Paz against Bolivian club the Strongest. Velez will now play Nacional, which advanced by beating Colombian club Santa Fe 3-2 on Thursday.
Velez is seeking its second Copa Libertadores title, and first since 1994. Because if finished with the best record, it will carry home-field advantage into the knockout stages.
Two-time champion Gremio finished with the second-best record in the first round after beating Uruguayan club Nacional 1-0 with a goal by Argentine striker Hernan Barcos on Thursday. Police said 25 people were detained during the match because of fan violence at the Arena Gremio in Brazil.
Gremio will face Argentine club San Lorenzo, the team known for having Pope Francis as a supporter.
“We enter the second round boosted by a great campaign in a difficult group,” Gremio coach Enderson Moreira said.
Atletico Mineiro won its group and will face Nacional de Medellin, which secured its spot by upsetting Newell’s Old Boys 3-1 in Argentina. Newell’s was the only Argentine club to be eliminated in the group stage, prompting coach Alfredo Berti to resign.
Brazilian champion Cruzeiro was the other Brazilian team to advance, setting up a match against Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno.
Atletico Paranaense, Botafogo and Flamengo were the Brazilian clubs eliminated. Botafogo fans threw eggs and coins at players when they arrived in Rio de Janeiro following the loss to San Lorenzo on Wednesday in Argentina. Coach Eduardo Hungaro, who had led the team since December, was fired on Friday.
Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, fell after a 3-2 home loss to Leon at a packed Maracana Stadium on Wednesday. Leon is one of the two Mexican clubs in the second round, along with Santos Laguna.
In addition to Velez and San Lorenzo, Argentina will also have Lanus and Arsenal of Sarandi in the round of 16.
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