The Copa Libertadores is one of the premier competitions in all of club football. We boil down the tournament to what makes it great: Blossoming talent, raucous arenas, and fierce matchups with plenty of history behind them.
The 2023 Copa Libertadores group stage is set, and the path for all 32 teams to the final at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro is clear. The decision to host the final in Brazil is yet another indicator of its domination of South America’s premium club competition in recent years. Mild geopolitical controversy aside, these group stages offer some of the most unpredictable and exciting football on the continent. These are some of the best matchups, unique stadium settings, and young superstars to look out for.
Young Players to Watch
At 16 years old, Endrick is already a well-known entity in Latin American football. In October 2022, he became the second-youngest scorer in the history of Brazil’s first division when he scored twice against Athletico Paranaense. The Palmeiras superstar has already agreed to join up with Real Madrid in July 2024, when he turns 18. With shades of all the Brazilian greats, watching him in the Copa Libertadores will soon be a thing of the past. Do it while you can.
Matheus Franca, Flamengo
The fact that Rio de Janeiro native Matheus Franca has already had his contract extended twice at the age of 19 tells you everything you need to know about how Flamengo regard him. They’re no strangers to recognizing when they have a talented player, and the belief that he’ll follow the footsteps of Vinicius Junior to Europe is very strong. He’s a skillful, intelligent, and visionary midfielder with an astonishing defensive work rate.
Fabricio Diaz, Liverpool
20-year-old Fabricio Diaz has the maturity and awareness of a seasoned defensive midfielder. His perception and game management is such that he has become the heartbeat of his Liverpool team. He’s also happy to break stride and carry the ball forwards, or unleash a shot from 30 yards without hesitation. It’s no wonder he’s generated reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
Vitor Roque, Athletico Paranaense
Behind O Fenomeno, Vitor Roque became the second-youngest Brazil striker to have earned a call-up during the last international break. The 18-year-old is lightning-quick, a devastating finisher, and creates danger with his movement. He helped his team reach the Copa Libertadores final last season, where they lost out to Flamengo. A summer move to a European club has been rumored, with a €45 million price tag reportedly in place.
Basically any Independiente del Valle player
The Ecuadorian side really is one of football’s great success stories in recent years. With academy graduates like Moises Caicedo, their academy is the envy of the world. If you’re really looking to scout future talent for your club, look no further than Independiente.
The Wildest Stadium Atmospheres
The Alberto Jose Armando stadium, known more commonly as La Bombonera, features highly on the top of any ground-hoppers’ bucket list. Packed with almost 60,000 screaming Boca Juniors fans in the barrio of La Boca, it is one of the most famous grounds on the planet, and really a no brainer for this list.
The host of countless finals, battles with Boca, and even World Cup matches, the Monumental is a breathtaking arena. With a capacity of over 80,000, the home ground of River Plate is one of the largest in South America. No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without a visit to this cathedral of football.
Estadio Monumental David Arellano
With an open-air setting, backed by a serene landscape of snow-capped mountains, the Monumental David Arellano is a simply stunning spot. The old-fashioned floodlights and lowly-stooped stands offer far-reaching views of the city of Santiago. It is the home of one of Chile’s most famous clubs, Colo-Colo, and seats almost 50,000.
Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo
With a capacity of 59,000, the Isidro Romero Carbo is the largest stadium in Ecuador, situated in the port city of Guayquil. The Monumental hosted a number of the 1993 Copa America tournament games, including the final, and was the host of last years’ Copa Libertadores final between Flamengo and Athletico Paranaense. The two ends behind either goal extend beyond the roof coverings of the main stand, creating two opposing banks that fill with noise and color on rowdy matchdays.
Estadio Gran Parque Central
Located in the heart of Montevideo, the Gran Parque Central is the home of Club Nacional. It was built in 1900, making it one of the oldest football stadiums in the world. While its capacity doesn’t stand up to the others on this list, its place in history — as somewhere that hosted games from the very first World Cup in 1930 — is settled. Under the floodlights during a midweek Copa Libertadores group game…that’s a special place to be.
Flamengo vs. Racing
Current holders of the Copa Libertadores, Flamengo are always a crowd-drawer. But they actually lost their opening game to Ecuadorian side Aucas, a real first-round shocker.
Racing de Avellaneda, on the other hand, won their opening game. Under the stewardship of arguably the best-dressed manager in all of Latin America — ex-Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago — they have been in outstanding form, narrowly missing out on the league title last season. This will be a tremendous battle.
Boca Juniors vs. Colo-Colo
Simply two of the biggest, most famous, and most historic clubs in football. With fanaticism that runs painfully deep, you can expect fireworks in both of these group games.
Boca have had a patchy start to their domestic season, and current manager Jorge Almiron is their third head coach in the calendar year.
River Plate vs. Fluminense
Life after the irreplaceable Marcelo Gallardo was supposed to be filled with danger and uncertainty for River Plate. But the short reign of Martin Demichelis has demonstrated anything other than danger. Despite a shock defeat in their opening game to The Strongest from Boliva, River Plate have arguably been the most impressive side in South America in 2023. They sit top of the Liga Profesional in Argentina and look set to make a deep run in this tournament.
Fluminense are in similarly devastating form. They recently won the Campeonato Carioca — the tournament of Rio de Janeiro — for the second year running, and finished third in Serie A last season. These two games will be incredibly high quality.
Corinthians vs. Argentinos Juniors
The club that gave us Socrates versus the club that gave us Maradona: two of football’s everlasting rebels. Imaging these two lining up for their respective clubs and going toe-to-toe in midfield, followed by the wildest post-match night-out in the history of football, is a wonderful thought.
Both won their opening group games, but with Independiente del Valle and Liverpool making up the rest of Group E, they’re both in for a rough ride.