Mexico’s participation in the Group Stage of the 2013 Copa Libertadores kicks off on Wednesday, when Toluca visits the Bombonera in Buenos Aires for what should be an attractive duel with Boca Juniors.
On paper, the matchup between the historic Argentina side and the Mexican Apertura 2012 runner-up should be a fascinating one. Under Enrique Meza, the Red Devils figure to play an intelligent match, and will attempt to get the result on the road that could kickstart their campaign in a complicated group that also includes Ecuador’s Barcelona and Nacional of Uruguay.
It may be the toughest group in the competition this year, which doesn’t bode well for Mexico’s chances to win the prestigious competition for the first time ever. While fellow Copa Libertadores participant Club Tijuana has some distinct advantages, you’d have to figure the veteran Toluca side would normally have a better overall chance of going deep into the tournament.
Toluca is an experienced team with some history in tournaments of this weight. Led by veteran coach Meza - who guided Pachuca to the 2006 Copa Sudamerica title and also coached Cruz Azul in last year’s Libertadores - the Red Devils seem to have the arguments to make history.
But the start to the 2013 Clausura makes that look less likely. Three losses on the trot are no way to enter a competition of this magnitude. Toluca also figured to count on a huge home field advantage, but the Devils have failed to make their own version of the Bombonera weigh this season, most recently getting trounced by Tigres at home over the weekend in Liga MX play.
That, and long trips to Uruguay and Argentina mean that Meza’s side will not even be a favorite to get out of the group, much less do much damage later in the spring.
After Club Leon crashed out of the tournament unimpressively in the play-in stage, that leaves Club Tijuana as Mexico’s best hope. The Xolos - who open next week at San Jose in Bolivia - have a number of advantages to bring to bear in their pursuit of glory in the club’s first-ever international foray.
In what could be a more accessible group that also includes Millonarios and defending champion Corinthians, the Xolos have a chance to continue springing surprises. There is a real and present home field advantage in the fortress is Tijuana - located as far away from the South American sides as it’s possible to travel in Copa Libertadores play.
Xolos also play in front of a rabid crowd, on artificial turf, in conditions that vary significantly from the South American homes of their rivals. In the Estadio Caliente - last Liga MX round’s loss to nine-man America notwithstanding - the Xolos have built an impressive home record. If they can continue to make that stand up and steal a few points on the road, they could well be through to the knockout rounds at the expense of perhaps the defending champs.
But all in all, Xolos are still third favorite from the group after the Brazilian and Colombian side. Add that to Club Leon’s disappointment and Toluca’s poor form, and it doesn’t look to be shaping up for a banner year for Mexico in Libertadores play.
Still, all can change when the group phase of the tournament kicks off for Mexican sides on Wednesday.
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- Enrique Meza
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