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Can Mexico’s El Equipo de la Fuerza Overcome The Strongest of Bolivia?

The 2015 Edition of South America’s version of the UEFA Champions League is underway. Current holders San Lorenzo are the team to beat. The Argentine team defeated Paraguay’s Nacional for their first Copa Libertadores trophy last season, winning the Libertadores with a 2-1 aggregate score line, after two thrilling games. Now that the tournament is back underway, Mexico has various teams vying for the opportunity to win the South American Champions League. 

The Copa Libertadores is an interesting tournament. It’s meant to be a South American Champions League, but every year, Liga MX teams can qualify to play in the illustrious tournament. Regardless of whether or not Mexican Clubs should play in a South American specific tournament, it’s still an illustrious opportunity for Mexican sides to challenge their South American counterparts. Mexican teams have been invited since 1998, but no Mexican team has ever won the tournament.

Just to give U.S. soccer fans a quick tutorial of how Mexican teams qualify to the Copa Libertadores, let me give you a quick summary of how the 2015 qualifying went down. Only three Mexican teams can qualify to the South American tournament. Tigres and Atlas qualified for the tournament because they managed to clinch 2nd and 3rd place respectively in the Apertura 2014. Tigres took the first slot because of the amount of points they managed during the Apertura tournament and Atlas took the 2nd slot for the same reason. Club America managed to win the Apertura but only teams that do not have a conflict with the CONCACAF Champions League can participate in the South American Tournament. Tigres and Atlas left it late, sealing their participation in the Copa Libertadores with wins in the 17th round of the Apertura tournament to qualify.This took place in November of 2014 while the first team to qualify was Monarcas. Monarcas managed to take 3rd spot, qualifying in their Super Copa MX win in July. Teams that win the Super Copa MX, regardless of their standing in the league table, qualify for the Copa Libertadores. 

In this year’s edition we have two Mexican teams that have already automatically qualified for the group round. Atlas and Tigres UANL have yet to start their South American campaign, but at least they can rest assured that they don’t have to do any extra leg work to get there. Morelia, on the other hand, has to beat South American opposition to be able to join their fellow Mexican sides in the group stage. 

Los Monarcas de Morelia are playing a two-legged qualifier for the group stage against The Strongest. Unfortunately for Los Monarcas, it looks like The Strongest are a serious bump in the road. Which surprises Mexican fans hoping that this is the year that a Mexican side proves their worth against South American teams. It’s surprising because the team that they are competing against is hardly known to Mexican fans. 

The Strongest, a name fitting for the side that held Monarcas to a 1-1 draw in their first leg at home in Morelia, is the team that might keep Monarcas from continuing their South American venture. They are currently four games into the Bolivian Professional Soccer League but they have yet to lose a match, sitting in 2nd place behind Bolivar. Their form goes to show that the Michoacán Club Morelia probably shouldn’t have underestimated their opponents in the first leg, and that they definitely cannot risk underestimating them in their second leg. Morelia, compared to their South American rivals, is not having a great domestic season so far. They sit in 17th place of the table, after 5 games with no wins.

In that first leg, Morelia behaved naïvely with their defense letting in an early first goal in the 8th minute. The goal came from a set-piece after Morelia gave away a dangerous free-kick near Felipe Rodriguez’s goal, up stepped The Strongest’s capitan Pablo Escobar, and from the set-piece he curled in a long range free-kick - that was lucky enough to bounce off a few players from Monarcas - to deal the first blow. But Morelia managed to crawl themselves back into the game by a David Depetris header in the 36th minute. The scoreline stayed 1-1 for the rest of the game, thanks to amazing goal keeping from The Strongest’s goalkeeper. Check out this amazing save from him:

Morelia faces The Strongest this coming Tuesday in their home turf in La Paz, Bolivia. Bolivia’s high altitude will play to their team’s advantage. Can Morelia make it three teams in the Copa for Mexico or will they surprisingly crash out? Mexican pride is at stake. 

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