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 By Tim Vickery

In the Copa Libertadores, San Lorenzo go out, Brazil, Colombia teams cruise

Reigning Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo were unable to qualify from the group stage.

With the group stage of the Copa Libertadores now complete, it's time to take a look at the five biggest talking points from South America's biggest club competition.

1. If getting there is hard, staying there is harder

San Lorenzo's reign as champions came to a melancholy end with the team beaten 1-0 at home by Danubio of Uruguay, who had lost all their previous matches.

The fans in Buenos Aires never stopped singing, though. They were proud of their team, which last year ended the long wait for a first Libertadores title. Retaining the trophy always looked like a tough task, especially when they were drawn in the same group as Brazilian giants Corinthians and Sao Paulo. With only two slots available in the knockout stage, one of the big three had to fall by the wayside, and after scoring just three times in six matches, it was the Argentines.

There were moments when Edgardo Bauza's side hinted at a better level of performance than last year. But the opposition were tougher, and missing was that little bit of something -- be it desire or luck -- that kept getting them over each hurdle twelve months ago.

There is little new about their inability to win two years in a row -- no one has done it since Boca Juniors in 2001. Internacional of Brazil were champions in 2006 and went on to beat Barcelona in the final of the Club World Cup. They may have been best team on the planet in December, but come the following April they were eliminated in the group stage -- no longer among the best 16 clubs in their continent.

2. Full house for Brazil

That early elimination of Internacional in 2007 was a rare failure for Brazil. After that only Flamengo in 2012 fell at the group stage, until the cull of last year, when three of the country's six representatives failed to make it through.

Normal service, then, has resumed this year. Atletico Mineiro left it late -- scoring the decisive goal with only 11 minutes left -- and some of the others went into the last game still scrambling round for points, but all five clubs got safely over the line.

This is how it should be given the financial advantage that Brazil's clubs currently enjoy over their continental rivals. The high salaries on offer in the Brazilian game mean that leading players from elsewhere in the continent are gravitating towards their clubs, whose squads can boast considerable strength in depth.

The Brazilian ranks will be thinned out in the next round, though. There are two all-Brazilian ties, Cruzeiro against Sao Paulo while Atletico Mineiro face off against Internacional.

Atletico Mineiro -- featuring Brazil international Jo, left -- waited until the final 11 minutes before sealing their progress from the group stages ahead of Colo Colo.

3. Colombia also enjoy success

Once Caldas had the ill fortune to draw Corinthians of Brazil in the qualifying round, and fell early, but both Colombia's other representatives not only made it through to the knockout stage, they also won their groups in a style that entitles them to dream of further progress.

Santa Fe of Bogota looked solid throughout. Coach Gustavo Costas usually produces competitive sides, and with the highly promising young centre-back combination of Francisco Meza and Yerry Mina, his team is built on a firm foundation. They have some guile in midfield and some pace in attack and could take some stopping.

Atletico Nacional of Medellin, meanwhile, had to ease themselves into the competition. Plenty of important players left the club at the start of the year, and it took time for the new side to gel. But left-footed attacking midfielder Yulian Mejia has made such strides that he has probably been the revelation of the competition so far, and his relationship with centre-forward Luis Carlos Ruiz is looking better with every game.

4. Another wipeout for Chile

All the teams from Peru and Venezuela had already bowed out of the competition and, with 11 minutes to go in the final game involving one of their clubs, the same thing happened to Chile. Atletico Mineiro scored a second goal against Colo Colo which put them ahead on goal difference, and the injury hit Chileans could not find the strength to hit back.

Palestino had already been eliminated, and Universidad de Chile embarrassingly lost five of their six matches. And so, just like 2008 and 2013, there is no Chilean participation in the knockout stage. This is disappointing, especially since the clubs have been getting themselves better organised off the field and there has been considerable recent investment in stadiums.

In truth, the only Chilean club to be truly competitive in the last few years have been Universidad de Chile. La U were semifinalists in both 2010 and 2012. Since then, they have signed plenty of players who have been doing well with other clubs in the country but have frequently been unable to reproduce that form with their new club. La U have therefore not benefited from their services, while the quality of other teams has fallen as a consequence.

Fernando Santander provides the attacking punch for Paraguayan team Guarani.

5. Some pleasant surprises

The three teams who would probably have been seen as least likely to make the last 16 are Universitario Sucre of Bolivia, Guarani of Paraguay and Wanderers of Uruguay. All benefited from being drawn in relatively easy groups, but even so there was plenty to applaud in their performances.

The Bolivians are taking part in the competition for only the second time, and were unbeaten until the last of their six group matches. A grand total of four goals would tend to suggest, though, that they will have a hard time making further progress especially since their next opponents, Tigres of Mexico, will not be unduly disturbed by the altitude of Sucre.

Wanderers played some bold football and have a few young players capable of going on to bigger things, though one would expect them to be outgunned by Racing of Argentina in the next round.

Guarani are the most intriguing of the trio. Their recent Libertadores record is very poor, but Spanish coach Fernando Jubero has assembled an interesting squad. Once the team switched to a back three the defence looked much tighter, with veteran centre-back Julio Cesar Caceres operating in the middle showcasing his sound reading of the game and timing in the tackle. The pace of winger Julian Benitez and the strength of centre-forward Fernando Santander gives the side an attacking punch.

In both of the last two years, resilient Paraguayan sides -- Olimpia and Nacional respectively -- fought their way through to the final. Guarani are not noticeably worse than those sides but they will have to do it the hard way... their next opponents are Corinthians of Brazil.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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