The Copa Libertadores represents the pinnacle of South American club football. A tournament that captures the imagination of an entire continent. COPA90 explores what makes it so special.
“I’d dreamt about it but I couldn’t believe it on the night. At that moment I was bouncing the ball and saying ‘I am the best, I am the best’ and trying to calm myself down. I didn’t want my nervousness to betray me.”
As Néstor Ortigoza stepped up to the penalty spot, a million and one thoughts rushed through his head. He was acutely aware that this was a career-defining moment, a chance to etch his name into the annals of the game for an eternity.
A long run-up, a couple of skips, and a low, side-footed shot proved to be enough. The Nacional keeper guessed the wrong way, helplessly looking on as the ball sailed past him. 44,000 fans inside the Estadio Pedro Bidegain erupted. Ortigoza had just scored the goal that would win San Lorenzo their first, and to date only, Copa Libertadores.
“It felt like my whole life I was preparing for the biggest penalty of my life. The one in the Copa Libertadores.”
Néstor Ortigoza, 2014 Copa Libertadores winner
European football fans are well-versed when it comes to the Champions League. It’s seen as the height of club competition and, while that is true in terms of individual quality, ask any South American about passion, energy and sheer joy and you’ll soon come to realise that Europe’s grandest tournament can’t hold a candle to the Copa Libertadores.
The competition was founded in 1960 and takes its name from the Spanish word, Libertadores, meaning ‘liberators’, paying homage to the South American soldiers who fought for their continent’s independence against Europe and America.
Over the years, clubs from certain countries have dominated the tournament, including international powerhouses, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It’s the former, however, who have historically hosted the most dominant sides, with Independiente currently holding the record for the most titles (seven).
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore last year’s final – a match which was comfortably the biggest in the tournament’s history; perhaps in football, period. It was the Superclásico; Boca Juniors vs. River Plate; football’s fiercest rivalry, on the biggest stage of them all.
“Imagine Barcelona and. Real Madrid meeting in the final of the Champions League, times one hundred.”
Santi Bauzá, Journalist from Buenos Aires
The 2019 final takes place this weekend with Jorge Jesus’ Flamengo going up against Marcelo Gallardo’s River Plate, as the latter looks to retain his side’s crown. Both managers are revered for their tactical innovations respectively, and lock horns this Saturday in what promises to be one of the most intriguing finals in recent history.
You only need to spend five minutes watching the scenes from the 2018 final to understand this is far more than just sport to the people of Latin America. This is pride, identity, fervor. It conjures a religious like following where the result can feel more like life or death than a simple game of football.
For the first time ever, EA SPORTS are bringing that identity and passion to life through a brand new Copa Libertadores playing mode on FIFA20. In EA’s words, you’ll be able to “feel the weight of a continent’s obsession as you play with clubs from Uruguay, Perú, Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and beyond at the pinnacle of South American club football.
“It’s the most important competition in South America.”
Paulo Dybala, Juventus striker
“Lead historic South American teams like River Plate, Boca Juniors, Flamengo, Corinthians, Racing Club, C.A. Independiente, Colo-Colo and Universidad Católica, and follow in the footsteps of stars like Vinícius Jr. and Kaká through the heated competition of CONMEBOL Libertadores, CONMEBOL Sudamericana and CONMEBOL Recopa.”
From March 2020, FIFA’s new format will afford fans a taste of the drama, intensity and outright craziness from an entirely different perspective. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in the rich narrative of football’s greatest spectacle and write your own history in the tournament, playing with some of the best club sides outside of Europe.
Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.