Olimpia moved top of the table as the only unbeaten and untied team in Paraguay.
At this point, four seasons across South America have yet to start up. Brazil’s national league will start in a few months after most of the state championships play out their seasons. That leaves five other countries in CONMEBOL whose top-flight domestic leagues are currently in action as of the first weekend of February.
One of the fun stories this week is the advancement to the semifinals of the Taca Guanabara by Resende. The club, first formed 109 years ago, have plied their trade at the lower levels of Brazilian soccer and only reached the top flight of the Campeonato Carioca in 2007. Now, a dozen years later, the club face Vasco da Gama in the semifinals as they try to reach the Taca Guanabara final for the second time in club history, a decade after their first chance fell flat at the end.
There was plenty of other action across the continent, with action from Colombia and Venezuela all the way down to Argentina. Let’s look at some of the biggest stories of the weekend, starting with Olimpia’s continued march of dominance in Paraguay, as we dive into this week’s review of soccer in South America.
Olimpia obliterate Sportivo Luqueno to stay atop Paraguayan table
Last year, Olimpia dominated the competition throughout their Primera campaign in Paraguay. The club based in the capital city of Asuncion won both the Apertura and Clausura seasons last year, losing only four out of their 44 matches total across the two halves of the 2018 season.
This year, things are lining up to offer much of the same for Olimpia. The defending champions only have two matches under their belt after the season opener against Nacional was postponed and rescheduled for Feb. 13, yet they are still the top team in the table already with two wins out of two matches.
Their first was a 2-0 takedown of Sportivo San Lorenzo last weekend. That victory preceded an even more dominant 5-1 demolition of Sportivo Luqueno on Sunday that pushed the defending champions ahead of Sol de America, Guarani, Cerro Porteno and Sportivo San Lorenzo on goal differential.
The road win in Luque began on an own goal by the hosts, as Jonathan Ferrari put Olimpia up 1-0 just seven minutes into the match. Roque Santa Cruz, the 37-year-old veteran, netted a brace before halftime, sandwiching goals in the 18th and 43rd minutes around Alejandro Silva 22nd-minute strike. William Mendieta made it 5-0 a quarter hour after the restart after the intermission. The only downside was losing the clean sheet in the 76th minute, but the four-goal margin of victory was enough to reclaim pole position in the table.
Bolivar hold early league lead in Bolivia despite Nacional Potosi draw
As seasons get underway across South America, early leaders will either consolidate their gains or fade away as season-opening hot streaks eventually cool down. We don’t yet know what will happen for Bolivar, who finished fourth in last year’s Clausura, but for now they’re the top team in Bolivia after four matchdays.
Like Olimpia, Bolivar top the table despite having played one fewer match than the teams around them. The La Paz powerhouse stayed in top position this week despite drawing their Sunday afternoon match against Nacional Potosi.
Juanmi Callejon scored for the hosts in the 25th minute, but Nacional pulled level five minutes later when Vladimir Castellon potted an equalizer that beat Bolivar goalkeeper Saidt Mustafa. Both teams had their chances after that to take the lead, but neither could find a winner over the last hour of the match. That left both teams splitting the points and leaving one on the table.
As a result, that meant that Bolivar were left sitting level with 2018 Apertura champion Jorge Wilstermann and Real Potosi on seven points apiece. But Bolivar have a far superior goal differential, sitting four goals ahead of the other two teams atop the table.
Next week, Bolivar will square off against Blooming. Their postponed match against CD San Jose has yet to be rescheduled, though at this point they have not needed the match in hand to remain atop the league.
First qualifying round of the 2019 Libertadores is complete
The first qualifying round of the 2019 Copa Libertadores wrapped up in the final days of January as the preeminent tournament in South America kicks off its 60th edition. In the opening round, six teams played one another for a shot to reach the second of three qualifying rounds for the group stage of the tournament.
Bolivar were one of those six teams, but they won’t be among the 16 teams in the second qualifying round after their 6-5 aggregate loss to Defensor Sporting of Uruguay. A 4-2 loss at home in La Paz on Jan. 23 proved costly for the Bolivian side. Even though they returned the favor by winning 3-2 on the road in Montevideo on Jan. 30, Bolivar was unable to overcome the deficit on aggregate and are left to focus their attention on domestic play.
Delfin piled on to a 3-0 advantage after the first leg of the qualifier against Nacional with a 2-1 victory on the road in Asuncion on Jan. 30. The Ecuadorian squad got three goals over the first two legs from 33-year-old journeyman forward Roberto Ordonez, making him the early leader in the race to lead the tournament in scoring.
The third contest of the preliminary round saw Real Garcilaso knocked out of the tournament at home by Deportivo La Guaira on away goals. A 1-0 loss in Venezuela meant that any goals scored by Deportivo would send them through unless they lost by two or more goals. The Peruvians scored two goals in Cusco, with Reimond Manco and Hernán Rengifo finding the back of the net. But a Jose Balza strike in the 93rd minute pulled off that late steal that knocked Real out.
Delfin, Defensor Sporting and Deportivo La Guaira join 13 other teams automatically entered in the second round. First legs take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, with the return legs held the following week.