The Copa Bridgestone Libertadores de América, known simply as the Copa Libertadores and originally known as the Copa Campeones de América (Portuguese: Copa Campeões da América), is an annual international club football competition organized by CONMEBOL since 1960. It is the most prestigious club competition in South American football and one of the most watched events in the world, broadcast in 135 nations worldwide. The tournament is named in honor of the Libertadores (Portuguese and Spanish for Liberators), the main leaders of the South American wars of independence, so a literal translation of its name into English would be the “Bridgestone Liberators of America Cup”.The competition has had several different formats over its lifetime. Initially, only the champions of the South American leagues participated. In 1966, the runners-up of the South American leagues began to join; in 1998, Mexican teams were invited to compete. Today at least three clubs per country compete in the tournament, while Argentina and Brazil each have five clubs participating. Traditionally, a group stage has always been used but the amount of teams per group has varied several times.In the present format, the tournament consists of six stages, with the first stage taking place in early February. The six surviving teams from the first stage join 26 teams in the second stage, in which there are eight groups consisting of four teams each. The eight group winners and eight runners-up enter the final four stages, better known as the knockout stages, which ends with the finals anywhere between June and August. The winner of the Copa Libertadores becomes eligible to play in two extra tournaments: the FIFA Club World Cup and the Recopa Sudamericana.
The reigning champion of the competition is Brazilian club Corinthians, after beating Boca Juniors 3-1 on aggregate. Argentine club Independiente is the most successful club in the cup history, having won the tournament seven times. Argentine clubs have accumulated the most amount of victories with 22 wins while Brazil has the largest number of different winning teams, with a total of eight clubs having won the title. The cup has been won by 22 different clubs and won consecutively by six clubs, most recently by Boca Juniors in 2001.
The clashes for the Copa Río de La Plata between the champions of Argentina and Uruguay kindled the idea of a continental competition in the 1930s.In 1948, the South American Championship of Champions (Spanish: Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones), the most direct precursor to the Copa Libertadores, was played and organized by Chilean club Colo-Colo after years of planning and organization. Held in Santiago, it brought together the champions of each nation’s top national leagues. The tournament was won by Vasco da Gama of Brazil.
However, it was not until 1958 when the basis and format of the competition was created, thanks to the efforts of Peñarol’s board leaders. On March 5, 1959, at the 24th South American Congress held in Buenos Aires, the competition was approved by the International Affairs Committee. In 1966, it was named in honor of the heroes of South American liberation, such as José Gervasio Artigas, Bernardo O’Higgins, José de San Martín, Pedro I, and Simón Bolívar, among others.
The first edition of the Copa Libertadores took place during in 1960. Seven teams participated: Bahia of Brazil, Jorge Wilstermann of Bolivia, Millonarios of Colombia, Olimpia of Paraguay, Peñarol of Uruguay, San Lorenzo of Argentina and Universidad de Chile. The first Copa Libertadores match took place on April 19, 1960. It was won by Peñarol, who defeated Jorge Wilstermann 7–1. The first goal in Copa Libertadores history was scored by Carlos Borges of Peñarol. The Uruguayans won the first ever edition defeating Olimpia in the finals and successfully defended the title in 1961. It proved to be historic justice for many (even today) due to Peñarol’s great contributions to the creation of the tournament, but the Copa Libertadores did not receive international attention until its third edition, which was swept through the sublime football of a Santos team led by Pelé, considered by some the best club team of all times. Os Santásticos, also known as O Balé Branco (or white ballet), which dazzled the world during that time, won the title of 1962 defeating the defending champion Peñarol in the finals. A year later, O Rei and his compatriot Coutinho demonstrated their skills again in the form of tricks, dribbles, backheels, and goals including two in the second leg of the final at La Bombonera, to subdue Boca Juniors 2–1 and keep the trophy again.
Argentine football finally inscribed their name on the winner’s list in 1964 when Independiente became the champion after disposing of the powerful title holders Santos and Uruguayan side Nacional in the finals. Independiente successfully defend the title in 1965; Peñarol would defeat River Plate in a playoff to win their third title, and Racing would go on to claim the spoils in 1967.The next biggest highlight of the competition, after Pele’s Santos, did not happen until 1968 with the introduction of Estudiantes de La Plata.
Estudiantes de La Plata, a modest neighborhood club and a denominated minor team in Argentina, had a style that prioritized athletic preparation and achieving results at all costs. Led by coach Osvaldo Zubeldía and a team built around figures such as Carlos Bilardo, Oscar Malbernat and Juan Ramón Verón, went on to become the first ever tricampeon of the competition. The pincharratas won their first title in 1968 by defeating Palmeiras. They successfully defended the title in 1969 and 1970 against Nacional and Peñarol, respectively. Although Peñarol was the first club to win three titles, Estudiantes had done this feat consecutively.
Unlike most other competitions around the world, the Copa Libertadores historically did not use extra time, an additional period of play specified under the rules of a sport to bring a game to a decision and avoid declaring the match a tie or draw, or away goals, a method of breaking ties in football and other sports when teams play each other twice, once at each team’s home ground, to decide a tie that was level on aggregate.From 1960 to 1987, two-legged ties were decided on points (teams would be awarded 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss), without taking goal difference into consideration. If both teams were level on points after two legs, a third match would be played at a neutral site. Goal difference would only come into play if the third match was drawn. If the third match did not produce an immediate winner a penalty shootout, a method used in football to decide which team progresses to the next stage of a tournament (or wins the tournament) following a tied game via kicking penalty kicks, was used to determine a winner.
From 1988 onwards, two-legged ties were decided on points, followed by goal difference, with an immediate penalty shootout if the tie was level on aggregate after full-time of the second leg. Starting with the 2005 event, CONMEBOL began to use the away goals rule. In 2008, the finals became an exception to the away goals rule and employed extra time. From 1995 onwards, the “Three points for a win” standard, a system adopted by FIFA in 1995 that places additional value on wins, was adopted in CONMEBOL, with teams now earning 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss.