Three-time winner of Copa Libertadores, Sao Paulo are not ready yet to be a contender for the title in 2016

São Paulo line up minutes before taking on Corinthians in the 2015 Copa Libertadores

In 1992, 1993 and 2005, the Copa Libertadores da América, South America’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League, were won by the Brazilian giants São Paulo Futebol Clube.

In those times, the Tricolor had excellent squads that were completely able to make us believe that they would go to this top level continental competition with just one goal in mind: be the champions once again and, a few months later, head off to Japan to take part in the Club World Cup. Barcelona in 1992, AC Milan in 1993 and Liverpool in 2005 felt first-hand what it is like to be beaten by the Brazilian side in the final.

Coming back to the reality of 2016, however, this Copa Libertadores does not seem that it is going to have São Paulo as one of the strong contenders to lift the trophy, as the Brazilians usually are. The Tricolor Paulista, though, can change this tough scenario if they find out how to increase their squad’s quality by signing at least three or four very good players without spending so much money.

It is going to be really difficult for them because the club does not have much resources right now. According to São Paulo’s president, Carlos Augusto de Barros e Silva, the club has only R$8 million (€1,892,900) to spend on new players. Besides being economically weak, the Brazilian side has to race against time to get ready for the most important and difficult competition in the continent.

Crippling departures weaken squad

Looking at São Paulo’s group of players for 2016 season, honestly it is impossible to see enough quality to win this Libertadores. Luis Fabiano, the striker who is the club’s third highest goal scorer of all-time, scoring 211 times in 351 appearances, has just left to play in China.

Former AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato must also be on his way back to Corinthians -- or to a European club. But none of these names, with all due respect, can be compared to São Paulo legend Rogério Ceni, the goal-scoring goalkeeper who netted 131 goals in official matches for the club. Ceni, 42, has hung up his gloves after 23 seasons playing for Tricolor Paulista.

Luis Fabiano’s departure and Rogério Ceni’s retirement take this Tricolor’s squad to a situation where we do not notice any experience in Copa Libertadores whatsoever. At least the Argentinian coach Edgardo Bauza has arrived and he brings to the table three Libertadores titles, but he cannot walk out onto the pitch to play, can he? That is the problem.

Argentinian coach Edgardo Bauza during his first press conference as São Paulo boss

São Paulo must beat César Vallejo of Peru in the first qualifying round of the tournament and go through to join River Plate of Argentina, The Strongest of Bolivia and Trujillanos of Bolivia in Group One. In fact, São Paulo have never lost against teams from Peru.

The Tricolor Paulista have played 24 times against them so far: 17 wins and 7 draws, 54 goals scored and 19 conceded. Another downside for the Brazilian side (if we can call it a true “downside”) is that the Brazilians will not have the Morumbi Stadium in their favor as its whole grass is being replaced and this repair will not be finished in time for the match against the Bolivian side.

Talking about the group stage now, São Paulo and River are not likely to face big difficulties to go through. Despite the fact that São Paulo’s squad is poor, The Strongest and Trujillanos have no chances technically of going beyond the group stage. In resume, it is an easy route both for São Paulo and River Plate.

Taking into consideration the Brazilian teams that may go further in the competition (Corinthians, Palmeiras, Atlético Mineiro, Grêmio and São Paulo), it would be totally acceptable if we take our gamble on Corinthians, the current champions of Brazil’s national championship, but never on São Paulo, although the Tricolor Paulista have much more tradition in Libertadores.

Copa Libertadores da América

The Copa Libertadores is more than special when it comes to the peculiar ingredients that can be found off the pitch, more specifically the energetic sort of environment that people surely will always come across while looking at the stands or around the stadiums.

Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera Stadium, in Buenos Aires, a true cauldron used to intimidate the opponents

Among the countless reasons why football fans across South America love the Copa Libertadores, certainly there is the fact that in this tournament, no matter which team you will play against nor which country it comes from; one can be always sure about one thing - you will have to overcome the huge pressure that your opponent’s supporters will create.

Perhaps your rival is very weak technically and it makes you the notorious favourite for the victory. When it comes to Libertadores, however, the crowd can actually make a huge difference and create an atmosphere totally against you, intimidating you especially mentally.

The fans quite often smell a rat when a stronger side takes on a weaker team, because you might have the best squad, but if your players do not have enough experience, you may lose the match just for being psychologically powerless.

Back in 2004, the same São Paulo were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Once Caldas of Colombia totally because of the cauldron that could be seen by everyone at the Palo Grande Stadium that night. With the ball at their feet, the São Paulo players were much better than the Colombian side, but psychologically the Brazilians were very weak. After beating São Paulo, Once Caldas ended up wrapping up that Copa Libertadores against Boca Juniors of Argentina in the final.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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