The Copa Libertadores is the most importantfootball competition in South America, and acts as that region's counterpart to Europe's UEFA Champions League. It's a tournament which has been held yearly since 1960. The clubs disputing this title are mostly home-grown, showcasing some of the continent's most talented players.
The tournament is played by teams from the countries who make up CONMEBOLnote Short for Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol, Southamerican Football Confederation (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela) plus teams from the Mexican league.note Who aren't given the right to participate from the World Club Championship representing South America in case of winning the tournament. They, however, can play said cup by winning the similar CONCACAF event. It has three stages: a preliminary round, then a group stage, then the final knockout phase. Not all the teams have to pass through all those phases, though; the top teams from the top leagues don't have to pass through the preliminary round. The group stage consists on eight grops of four teams (32 clubs in total), each team playing the others in home and away matches with the two top advancing to the knockout phase. Knockout is two-legged matches as well.
For those who get the chance to compete in it, it offers a good amount of prize money and TV Exposure and is the pinnacle of the club competitions outside of Europe. It showcases some of the finest football in the world and definitely has some of the most epic games you could ask for. The competition has been dominated mostly by "Atlantic" teams (i.e., teams from Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil) since it started, with Independiente having won it a record seven times in their history. However clubs in the "Pacific" have lifted the prestigious trophy at times.
It ranks as one of the most popular sporting events in the world, gaining the attention of 135 countries around the world. It's one of the most important dates in a football fan's calendar.
The winners (in order of first victory) are: Peñarol (5), Santos (3), Independiente (7), Racing Club (1), Estudiantes de La Plata (4), Nacional (3), Cruzeiro (2), Boca Juniors (6), Olimpia (3), Flamengo (1), Grêmio (2), Argentinos Juniors (1), River Plate (2), Atlético Nacional (1), Colo-Colo (1), São Paulo (3), Vélez Sársfield (1), Vasco da Gama (1), Palmeiras (1), Once Caldas (1), Internacional (2), LDU Quito (1), Corinthians (1), Atletico Mineiro (1) and San Lorenzo (1).
It shows examples of:
Big Damn Heroes: Goalkeepers have a habit of heading to the opposing goal if his team need to get a goal in the dying minutes of the final or knockout stages and they get a corner kick. And of course, bringing on substitutes for that same purpose (it happens a lot). It gets better in the knockout phase with the penalty shootout. If the goalkeeper keeps the last goal from the rival team, he grants the victory to his team. Bonus points in a semifinal. Double the bonus in a final.
Bonus Material: The FIFA World Club Cup (which is played by the champions of each confederation, plus the champion from the host country), and the Recopa Sudamericana (between this cup's champion and that of the Copa Sudamericana). Prior of them, there was the Intercontinental cup, between the UEFA Champions League champion and this cup's champion, which later evolved into the World Club Cup.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Peñarol (Uruguay) 11 - 2 Valencia FC (Venezuela) in 1970; River Plate (Argentina) 9 - 0 Universitario de Sucre (Bolivia) in 1970; and Peñarol 12 - 2 The Strongest (Bolivia) in 1971. To some extent, Peñarol 5-0 and 4-1 (9-1) over Everest (Ecuador), and eventual 2014 champions San Lorenzo 5-0 over Bolívar.
América de Cali and its idol striker, Antony de Ávila. América has never won the competition despite reaching the final four times (1985 against Argentinos Juniors, 1986 and 1996 against River Plate and 1987 against Peñarol). As for de Ávila, he holds the dubious record of playing in five finals, the same four with America plus one with Barcelona SC (1998 against Vasco da Gama), and not winning a single one.
River Plate also played 30 editions out of 40 of the event, (the team with the most amount of Copa Libertadores's participations) but won only 2 of them, the aforementioned finals against América de Cali.
Corinthians, which before its title run in 2012 had many choke jobs - most notably the very year before, where its defeat to the huge underdog of Deportes Tolima eventually culminated in the retirement of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos's "exile" to Russia.
Deus Exit Machina: The competition still holds club football as a thing to make money off (in Europe, it is the other way around) so you might get a final between two unknown teams every now and then. The 2008 final between LDU Quito and Fluminense, regarded an excellent final, maybe the best in living memory, can be considered as so.
Every Year They Fizzle Out: Mexican teams. They MAY go, just not as Libertadores winners, because Mexican teams are only invited by CONMEBOL (the South American football confederation) to take part; the tournament that counts for them is the CONCACAF Champions League, which congregates the teams of North (of which Mexico is a part) and Central America, and which has been dominated by Mexican teams for the last five years.
Heroic Rematch: Not only some games repeat from year to year, but at times the final is from two teams that were in the same group.
Olimpia coming back from a 0-2 deficit against São Caetano in 2002 to win the finals on penalties and Peñarol's epic comeback in the playoff final of 1966 to forever label River Plate as "chickens".
Boca Juniors twice managed comebacks against its rival team River Plate, in 2000 and 2004 respectively.
Atletico Nacional's comeback against Olimpia in 1989; they were losing 0-2 from the first match at Asuncion, but in Bogota's El Campin managed to equalize and win after an absurdly long penalty run.
Opposing Sports Team: Overlapping with Fandom Rivalry. Flamengo - Fluminense, Boca Juniors - River Plate, Independiente - Racing, Peñarol - Nacional, Colo Colo - Universidad de Chile or Universidad Católica (it really depends on which Universidad is playing better this or the other year), Corinthians - Palmeiras, etc, etc. And, of course, any match which involves an Argentine team against a Brazilian one.
Redemption Quest: Boca Juniors playing Santos in 2003 forty years after Pelé and Coutinho defeated Boca Juniors 1-2 in La Bombonera (Boca's home stadium).
Tempting Fate: Cruzeiro had the final match of 2009 at home, everyone thought it was a won game... well, the page image is Estudiantes de La Plata after winning said game.
Underdogs Never Lose: Up until 2014, San Lorenzo (yes, the one of which Pope Francis was a fan since childhood) was the only major Argentinian team to never have won a Libertadores, whereas Racing Club, River Plate, Boca Juniors and Independiente did; and two years prior they were facing a potential relegation in the national league in Argentina. So when they won in the 2014 edition, the happiness was like no other.
Unexpected Character: Since 2001, there was a lot of changes introduced for this cup upwards, and among them, the qualification. Nowadays, it's not strange to find teams which make everyone to wonder "WTF? How did THAT team to qualify to the cup?". Even hardcore football fans were surprised to see regular "lower division teams" playing a first-class cup like this one, such as the case of Quilmes (which haven't won an Argentine national title since 1978).
Who Needs Overtime: South American tournaments, historically, did not use extra time (and for the major part, they still don't), because all games, including the final, use the round-robin system with the away goals rule.