Velez Sarsfield (Argentina)
Previous best: Winners (1994)
With Facundo Ferreyra hitting 13 goals, Velez emerged as champions of Argentina in the Torneo Inicial. Coach Ricardo Gareca has since strengthened his side with the signing of Fernando Gago from Valencia, who will slot into the midfield three in Gareca’s 4-3-1-2 shape. Velez’s preparations for the Libertadores were hampered when Ariel Cabral fractured his tibia, but according to Iquique’s Rodrigo Diaz they are still “the team to beat”.
Expectations: Velez have a strong side and should be one of the contenders for this year’s title.
Star Man: Facundo Ferreyra.
Previous best: Winners (1960, 1961, 1966, 1982, 1987)
Like Velez, Penarol are coming into the Libertadores on the back of a championship winning campaign after lifting the 2012 Apertura title. However the size of the task ahead of them was underlined by a 3-1 defeat to Velez in the Copa Rio de la Plata in January. The Uruguayans have the experience of Marcelo Zalayeta on hand, but the real goal threat will come from Juan Manuel Oliveira while Mauro Fernandez has been brought in from Estudiantes to add some extra firepower.
Expectations: While Penarol are unlikely to have the same success against Velez as they did in the semi-finals in 2011, they should still take second place in the group.
Star Man: Juan Manuel Oliveira.
Previous best: N/A
They may start the group as underdogs, but débutantes Deportes Iquique should not be written off lightly. Los Dragones Celestes are appearing in the Libertadores group stages for the first time in their 35-year history after finishing as second top point scorers in Chile in 2012. Failure to win either the Clausura or the Apertura meant they were required to win a preliminary round to make it through, and they did so in dramatic style. After holding Club Leon of Mexico to a 1-1 draw on the road, Iquique then repeated the result at home. Goalkeeper Rodrigo Naranjo was the hero, saving two efforts, before influential captain Rodrigo Diaz scored his second penalty of the match. Cristian Diaz will be the man to lead the team in their first ever Libertadores campaign after taking over as coach in late November and he has been busy over the break strengthening the squad with the signings of Edson Puch and Manuel Villalobos.
Expectations: The Chileans have nothing to lose in a tricky group but certainly have their work cut out to avoid finishing bottom.Star Man: Cristian Bogado.
Previous best: Runners-up, 1995
Last year wasn't a good one for Emelec fans. After finishing third in the first phase behind LDU Loja and Barcelona, they were then runners-up to arch rivals Barcelona in the second phase. While their last-16 Copa Libertadores loss to champions Corinthians was no disgrace, hopes are high that 2013 can be a better year for los Electricos. Certainly the signing of Paraguayan international Pablo Zeballos will do little to harm their chances. The former Olimpia forward returns to South America after a short stint in Russia with Krlylya Sovetov and should prove a useful addition up front. Another notable signing is Vinicio Angulo, who was set to join Deportivo Quito until contract issues allowed Emelec to snatch his signature. But perhaps topping the bill at the Estadio George Capwell this year will be a player who has been at the club since he was a young teenager, Marcos Caicedo. At the age of 21 the winger has already played more than 50 matches for Emelec and is widely regarded as one of the most talented prospects in Ecuador.
Expectations: An improvement on their last-16 exit in 2012 looks unlikely but they could again make it out of a competitive group.
Star man: Marcos Caicedo.