Clubs from Venezuela, Peru limp out of Libertadores in very different ways
The big boys from Argentina -- Boca Juniors, River Plate and Racing -- have all qualified for the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores, along with Corinthians of Brazil, who should be joined by plenty of compatriots in the next few days.
Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay also have guaranteed representation in the last 16.
Colombia should, too, as both teams from the country head their group going into next week's final round. Bolivia have two teams still well in contention, and Emelec of Ecuador and Colo Colo of Chile are in with a chance.
But for two countries, the competition is over at an early stage -- again. Both Peru and Venezuela have dismal recent records in the competition. The year 2000 gives us a convenient starting point.
That was the year in which the Libertadores was more or less expanded to its current state: After a preliminary round, 32 teams have been disputing 16 slots in the knockout phase.
Since, there have only been six occasions when Peruvian clubs made the cut: Cienciano qualified for the second round in 2002, as did Sporting Cristal in 2004. San Martin made it through in 2009 and both the traditional giants, Alianza Lima and Universitario qualified, in 2010. And two years ago came the big surprise: Little Real Garcilaso, a recently-founded club, went all the way to the quarterfinals.
In the case of Venezuela, the retrospective is even more cruel: Deportivo Tachira made the quarterfinals in 2004, and Caracas did the same in 2009 after having reached the second round two years earlier. All the other teams failed to get out of their group.
Clubs from Peru and Venezuela may have failed again, but they failed in very different ways. There was something of a false dawn for Venezuelan football when Deportivo Tachira eliminated Cerro Porteno, a strong and traditional team from Paraguay, in the qualifying round.
Come the group stage, however, Tachira didn't manage a single victory, and neither have their compatriots, Zamora and Mineros. The latter at least have a final chance to make the statistics look a bit better when they host Huracan of Argentina next Tuesday. But it can be nothing but window dressing. The grim tale of Venezuela's participation in the 2015 Libertadores is a record of four draws and 13 defeats, with 11 goals scored and 46 conceded.
Every other country can claim at least one competitive team, one club that got close to qualification. Venezuela can claim nothing.
The irony is that this slump has coincided with a moment in which the Venezuelan national team have never been stronger. Indeed, this may even be part of the problem. The recent rise of "La Vino Tinto" (the national's team's nickname, in honour of their red wine-coloured shirts) has put their players in the shop window and earned them transfers abroad. And so the domestic league has been stripped of its stars, and quality has suffered. It is a graphic illustration of how the modern game can uncouple domestic from national team football.
One phenomenon that doesn't appear to suffer the effects of this fissure is the mental weakness of Peruvian football. It is apparent in the national team, whose away record over the past 15 years is deplorable. And it also became evident this week in the Libertadores.
Both Sporting Cristal and Juan Aurich had done most of the hard work in their previous matches. To guarantee a spot in the knockout phase, all they needed were wins at their home grounds.
Cristal seemed to have the harder task ahead of them. Their opponents, Guarani of Paraguay, were a resilient side that only needed a draw to ensure qualification. Cristal should have been in a stronger position; in the first meeting, in Asuncion, they were 2-0 up before letting their lead slip. Then, at home to Deportivo Tachira, they contrived to draw despite leading inside the final five minutes, and were awarded a penalty after the Venezuelans had equalised. Those opportunities were spurned, and few were surprised when Guarani held on for a 1-1 draw in Lima last Tuesday.
Juan Aurich on the other hand seemed to have everything in their favour. Their opponents, Tigres of Mexico, had already qualified. Tigres ostensibly made the task even easier by bringing just 16 players to Peru, most of which were reserves. And the match was to be played on the awful synthetic pitch at Chiclayo, where the ball bounces all over the place -- good news for Aurich, who are used to the conditions.
Moreover, they were given a soft penalty early in the second half that put them 3-2 up. In only the club's third Libertadores campaign, Juan Aurich were in reach of making history. But the "Cyclone of the North" ran out of puff. Being so close to glory proved too much for the Peruvians, and they collapsed to lose 5-4.
And with Aurich's thundering thud, Peruvian audiences, just like those in Venezuela, were condemned to watching the closing stages of the 2015 Copa Libertadores on television with me and you.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.