In the 2010 edition of Copa Libertadores, Chivas de Guadalajara did the unthinkable and made a run to the final of the mainly South American competition. They were ultimately defeated by a superior side, Internacional of Brazil, but their effort was impressive nonetheless.
On the way to the final, they pulled off three successive upsets in the knockout stages, defeating Velez of Argentina, Libertad of Paraguay and Universidad de Chile of Chile. They clearly defeated all of these teams, not needing the away-goals rule or penalty kicks to take them through in any case. It was a remarkable achievement, but if any of their fellow Mexican sides want to duplicate that achievement this season, they will have to take a much more difficult path.
That's because Chivas started the 2010 Copa Libertadores in the knockout stages and did not have to play in the group stages. That was the case because they were eliminated from the 2009 tournament after a swine flu scare meant South American teams wouldn't travel to Guadalajara. Due to their automatic elimination from the 2009 tournament, they were dropped directly into the knockout stages of the 2010 tournament, along with San Luis, and only 14 teams qualified for the knockout rounds instead of the usual 16.
In addition to that break, Chivas had one other added benefit: They got to play in an easy group in the 2009 tournament. If they had managed just one away win against Caracas of Venezuela, Everton of Chile, or Lanus of Argentina, they would have won the group. Instead, they coasted to second place and a 13th seed. They didn't have to play their best football to get through, which isn't necessarily going to be the case for the Mexican teams in this year's competition.
All of Club America, San Luis and Jaguares have tougher tasks in front of them than Chivas and seem unlikely to duplicate their accomplishment, but let's take a look at their relative chances for success, in order.
3. Jaguares de Chiapas
The only reason that Jaguares are placed here is simply because they have one more round of qualifying to go through. They're not considerably worse than America or San Luis, nor do they have a significantly harder group, but getting through Alianza Lima is going to be really tough. The Peruvian giants make Copa Libertadores appearances year after year. Their match-up is probably the most even of all the First Stage ties, and it's a shame that one of them will miss out on the group stages of the tournament.
If you read my work on a regular basis, I've discussed Danilinho's departure to Tigres ad nauseum, but if you don't -Jaguares' best player from last year moved to Tigres. It was a really big loss, and they didn't replace him. The impact of his loss can hardly be overstated.
Still, they have some pretty decent players. Attacking midfielder Jorge Rodriguez and striker Jackson Martinez have the class to cause problems for anyone in this tournament, captain Ismael Fuentes is a great defender, and up and coming midfielder Jorge Daniel Hernandez is very good.
If they get through to the group stages, they have to deal with solid, but recently depleted sides Emelec of Ecuador and defending champions Internacional of Brazil, as well as Bolivian side Club Jorge Wilstermann, who I know nothing about, though their (almost certainly inaccurate) roster on Wikipedia seems to suggest some kind of association with Traffic Sports.
2. Club America
After an awful start which led to manager Manuel Lapuente losing his job, America look very unlikely to advance deep into Copa Libertadores. Additionally, their group is really nasty.
If Copa Libertadores has a "group of death," it's probably Club America's Group 3, though Group 7 also looks potentially messy. America, Argentinos Juniors of Argentina, Fluminense of Brazil and Nacional of Uruguay should be fairly evenly matched and it wouldn't be shocking to see any two of that group make it to the knockout stages.
America have plenty of talent, but that talent isn't working together right now, at all. It's really odd, because they were very good in the 2010 Apertura. I would say that it's just a blip on the radar and they'll improve soon, but since Grupo Televisa, the company that owns America, has opted to fire a competent manager, I'm not willing to make that statement. America could, in fact, be in for a long and crappy season. Between the turmoil at the club and their tough group, it's highly unlikely that America could make a deep run into the Libertadores group stages.
1. San Luis
San Luis looks like they're sailing into the perfect storm of winnable games, talented the squad and limited expectations. They don't have to go through a home and away series with Alianza Lima like Jaguares, and they don't have to deal with the heavy expectations or nasty group of Club America. They can just go about their business without worry.
Los Gladiadores had a very good Apertura 2010 tournament, finishing in fifth place, much to the surprise of just about everyone. In retrospect, they're pretty good and we shouldn't have been stunned by their consistent play in the last domestic tournament.
Group 1 in the 2011 Copa Libertadores consists of San Luis, Universidad San Martin of Peru, Libertad of Paraguay and Once Caldas of Colombia. San Luis are probably a better side than Universidad San Martin, and they're certainly on a similar level with Once Caldas and Libertad. They're aided by the fact that both of those teams have lost some significant pieces recently, while San Luis have kept their team intact.
So, can someone duplicate Chivas de Guadalajara's run in 2011? Probably not. But if someone is going to do it, it's probably going to be San Luis. They start Copa Libertadores play on Feb. 15 when they host Libertad. Jaguares starts their campaign tonight against Alianza Lima in Chiapas, and Club America play their first Copa match on February 15th, hosting Nacional.