As Libertadores enters home stretch, near-misses create thrilling showdowns for final five knockout places

Everyone wants a ticket to the knockout stage of the Copa Libertadores, but several clubs that thought they had their passage stamped last week found out their place in the next round is hardly as secure as they hoped.

Three teams sitting at the bottom of their groups stymied the hopes of group rivals last week, forcing them to go through an uncomfortable wait during the international break and the next few weeks of the domestic season as they look to earn victories in late October and earn one of the five remaining spots in the knockout stage.

Caracas FC needed a result Wednesday at home against Independiente Medellín, a team yet to earn a point in the competition. Instead, they went into the halftime break scoreless and down a man. In the second half, they saw two more players receive their marching orders, and goals from Leandro Castro and Jesús Murillo gave the Colombians the victory even despite a failed penalty.

Now, the Venezuelan side needs help to get through, with Libertad hosting DIM and Caracas facing a trip to the Bombonera to square off against Boca Juniors. Caracas and Libertad are tied on points, with each having 7 and a -1 goal difference, so everything will be decided in dramatic fashion on October 22nd.

Two days earlier, the teams in Group G will decide their fate. Defensa y Justicia traveled to meet Delfín on Thursday knowing a victory would be enough to lock up second place in the group and book a place in the Round of 16. Delfín had other plans, with Janner Corozo scoring a stunner in the 12th minute to set the tone and two more goals coming in the second 45 minutes as the Ecuadorian side earned its first win of the tournament.

Now, the fight for the second spot in Group G will go right down to the wire, with Paraguayan side Olimpia still in it despite a home loss to group winners Santos. DyJ control their fate on the final matchday, but if they fail to win, a spot could open up for either Olimpia or Delfín.

Delfín weren’t the only team from Ecuador to enjoy the matchday. Barcelona had yet to taste victory in the group stage heading into Tuesday’s game against Junior in Barranquilla. Yet, while a victory at home would’ve given Junior a leg up on moving into the next round, they were unable to find the back of the net and fell 2-0 to the visitors.

Barcelona have a chance to play spoiler against their domestic rivals, meeting Independiente del Valle on the final day of group play and still holding onto a chance of making the CONMEBOL Sudamericana as well. That only could happen if Junior beats Flamengo in the Maracana, something pundits might not expect to happen after the results of the most recent matchday.

However, it reminded us of a lesson we’ve learned time and time again watching the competition: Anything can happen on a Libertadores night.