The start of the 2012 Copa Libertadores on Tuesday marks the start of a period of time when there is a ridiculous amount of football available for consumption. The Libertadores is the first major competition in a series of many that restarts this February and March, along with the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, CONCACAF Champions League, Major League Soccer and Russian Premier League. Time for football overload!
This year's edition of the Libertadores is one of the strongest in recent memory. The entire Brazilian contingent is strong, while Universidad de Chile and Boca Juniors should present formidable challenges to those sides. The majority of the teams who qualify for the knockout stages should have enough talent to win the competition, and every group is well-balanced.
Just over half the teams are in action during the first matchday this week. Among the teams sitting out this round are La U, Boca, Corinthians, Santos FC, Flamengo and Lanus.
Defensor Sporting vs. Velez Sarsfield, Group 7: 4:45 p.m. ET
Defensor Sporting finished second in Uruguay in the 2010-11 season to qualify for the Libertadores, but they were disappointing in the most recent tournament, where they finished sixth. They've added veteran Uruguayan international Nico Olivera to their ranks, but they're a team lacking in firepower. Similar things can be said about Velez, who lost all of Ricky Alvarez, Maxi Moralez and Santiago Silva over the last two transfer windows, but they're still favored to advance to the knockout stages. They'll have trouble scoring against Defensor, whose defense is fantastic at home.
Fluminense vs. Arsenal di Sarandi, Group 4: 7:00 p.m. ET
Fluminense were handed a shock upset defeat by Libertad in the Round of 16 in the last Libertadores, but they will enter this tournament as one of the favorites. They added new signing Thiago Neves in the offseason, and he will only improve the supply to their prolific finisher, Fred. Arsenal have a shaky defense and are the weakest Argentinian side in the tournament, so anything but a Flu win at home would be surprising.
Chivas Guadalajara vs. Deportivo Quito, Group 7: 9:15 p.m. ET
Chivas are, quite simply, an absolute disaster in the Mexican Primera this season. They finished as the Superliders in the 2011 Apertura before getting upset in the Liguilla, and that upset appears to have affected the club dramatically. They have a great mix of youth and experience and enough talent to win the Libertadores, but they're in simply pitiful form at the moment, with no wins from five games domestically. Deportivo Quito, the Ecuadorian champions, should provide a very stiff test for them. Keep an eye out for captain Luis Saritama and the little second striker Matias Alustiza.
Union Española vs. Atletico Junior, Group 3: 4:45 p.m. ET
In the last Libertadores, Junior were knocked out in bizarre circumstances in a spectacular tie against Jaguares de Chiapas that featured a pulled goalkeeper and a pitch invasion. This year, they should come back even stronger and they will establish themselves as favorites to advance out of Group 3 if they get an away draw on Wednesday. Goalkeeper Sebastian Viera and playmaker Giovani Hernandez are top players, but they will miss departed forward Carlos Bacca, who moved to Club Brugge. Union Española are third favorites to advance from the group, and will depend heavily on forward Sebastian Jaime.
Nacional vs. Cruz Azul, Group 6: 4:45 p.m. ET
Cruz Azul are in great form at the moment, going five games unbeaten to open the Mexican season. Corinthians are the clear favorites to win Group 6, so Wednesday night's match between the Blue Machine and Nacional of Paraguay will be huge. Nacional -- a team with a strong midfield and defense, but no stars -- will need to avoid a loss or they will feel their qualification chances slipping away on the first matchday. Keep an eye out for Cruz Azul playmaker 'Chaco' Christian Gimenez, who is in stunning form and can score from anywhere, at any time.
Vasco da Gama vs. Nacional, Group 5: 7:00 p.m. ET
Yes, there are two teams in the tournament named Nacional. This one comes from Uruguay, and is a bit more talented than the Paraguayan version. They're up against a brick wall on Wednesday, however. Brazilian runners-up Vasco da Gama boast the best central defense pairing in South America in Dede and Rodolfo, while veteran Juninho Pernambucano is still the world's finest left-footed striker of a dead ball. That defense pairing will have their hands full with new Nacional signings Vicente Sanchez and Joaquin Boghossian, while the one and only Alvaro Recoba is still playing and could be key for the Uruguayans.
Internacional vs. Juan Aurich, Group 1: 5:00 p.m. ET
Juan Aurich would have a decent shot at qualifying from most other groups, but they look dead in Group 1 before they even get started. The last two champions of the Libertadores, Internacional and Santos FC, headline this group and are heavily favored to advance. Inter's line is lead by Brazilian international Leandro Damiao, who will start at the Olympics and who has a $30 million price tag on his head. He's backed up by Jo and Dagoberto, while Andres D'Alessandro will create. Pablo Guiñazu and Mario Bolatti marshal the midfield. Sorry, Juan Aurich. This team is too good.
Universidad Catolica vs. Bolivar, Group 3: 7:15 p.m. ET
Though they don't quite boast the firepower or record of rivals Universidad de Chile, Universidad Catolica are slight favorites to win Group 3 and could be one of the dark horses in the tournament. They finished second in the aggregate table in Chile, and they boast a veteran midfield and defense. Milovan Mirosevic has departed for MLS, however, and it's not exactly clear where the goals are going to come from. Keep an eye on Matias Campos, who should wreak havoc down the left on opponents. Bolivar will make life tough on opponents in La Paz, but it's doubtful that they can get a result in Chile.
Libertad vs. Alianza Lima, Group 5: 7:15 p.m. ET
Though they had the best defense in Paraguay and got to the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals last season, Libertad could only manage a third place finish in their domestic league in 2011. Expectations are higher for 2012, and they could return to the quarterfinals or beyond this season. Their midfield, anchored by Paraguayan international and 2010 World Cup star Victor Caceres, is one of the strongest in South America. Forward Rodolfo Gamarra will be depended on for goals. Their opponents Alianza Lima are losing players left and right due to financial trouble and should not give Libertad too much trouble in Paraguay.