There's only one Boca Juniors. After its extraordinary 4-0 demolition of LDU Quito in the first leg of its Copa Sudamericana round of 16 matchup on Tuesday, the Argentine giants may be the team to beat in Latin America's second-biggest club tournament.
Despite fielding a team entirely made up of reserves (so Boca's regulars can concentrate on league play), the two-time Sudamericana winners completely dominated the Copa Libertadores champions. If it wasn't for several fine saves by Liga goalkeeper José Francisco Cevallos, Boca could easily have won the match by more.
Boca's depth is simply mind-blowing, and the players who have emerged from the club's youth ranks in recent years promise to become household names in the near future.
With veteran striker Martín Palermo out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Boca coach Carlos Ischia decided to call on the club's youth instead of purchasing an established replacement, and his choice has paid dividends. Future prospects Nicolás Gaitán, Lucas Viatri, Ricardo Noir, Cristian Chávez, Pablo Mouche and Juan Forlín (all under the age of 22) have accounted for eight of Boca's 16 goals so far this season.
Once again, Los Xeneizes have shown they're a cut above the rest when it comes to developing talented youngsters who can go on to win decisive matches on the international stage. If its success continues this season, Boca could win an unprecedented 19th international club title, surpassing the record held by AC Milan.
Still, there's a long way to go in the Copa Sudamericana, and several other clubs have shown signs of things to come as well. One such team is Estudiantes de La Plata, which beat defending Sudamericana champ Arsenal de Sarandí 2-1 in Wednesday's other clash.
Here's a breakdown of the rest of the round-of-16 matchups, all of which should be a thrill to watch. Despite the fact that Brazilian clubs have yet to win the title after six editions of the tournament, Palmeiras and Internacional are looking particularly strong.
Chivas may be struggling in the Mexican Apertura Championship, with only two wins in its first nine games, but the fact that it meets an Atlético side filled with reserves means it has a great shot at reaching the last eight of the Copa. The Brazilians find themselves only one point above the drop zone of their own domestic league, and head coach Geninho won't risk putting his team's chances of remaining in the Brazilian top-flight in jeopardy against the Goats. Both teams will be motivated by the fact that this tournament could be their only chance at winning something this season.The pick: Chivas
This promises to be an intriguing contest between two teams that like to play attacking soccer. Botafogo cruised into this stage of the tournament after a 8-3 aggregate demolition of fellow Brazilians Atlético Mineiro, and Ney Franco's side is confident on making the final eight. Earlier in the week, the coach insisted that his team's "objective is to score at least one away goal" in the first leg in Cali, and with the strength Botafogo has in its attack, the Rio de Janeiro club is more than capable of achieving this.
Meanwhile América, which finds itself in the midst of an internal conflict related to unpaid wages, hasn't let this affect its on-field performance this season. Los Diablos Rojos will do their utmost to get the two-leg series off to a good start in front of their demanding fans at the Pascual Guerrero.The pick: Botafogo
Both clubs are relative minnows in their respective leagues, but this matchup brings together two teams who have improved a great deal in recent years. To the surprise of many, San Luis is currently on top of the overall Mexican league standings, and will be hoping to win a trophy one way or another this season. However, if Los Tuneros' current good form goes to their head, Argentinos is more than capable of taking advantage. The side from La Paternal eliminated Argentine league leader San Lorenzo in the previous round of the competition, and will be urging to move closer towards claiming its first international title since it lifted the Copa Libertadores back in 1985. Could Argentinos be this year's version of Arsenal de Sarandí?The pick: Argentinos Juniors
You've probably never heard of Sport Áncash before, but since joining the Peruvian First Division in '04, the small-time club has surpassed all of its expectations and now has a stab at international glory. Unfortunately, its dream run is likely to come to an abrupt end as it clashes with in-form Brazilian giants Palmeiras. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's side trails Grêmio by only one point in the Brazilian league, and is on track for what would be a rare treble after winning the Paulista State Championship earlier in the year.
However, the Verdão has prioritized its domestic campaign, and will confront the first leg of the clash with Sport Áncash with only four first-team regulars. On the other hand, Antonio Alzamendi, the Uruguayan coach of the Peruvians, rested his starters last weekend in an attempt to increase his team's likelihood of obtaining qualification to the next round. Expectations in Peru are so high that Sport Áncash slashed tickets prices down to between $3 and $10 in order to guarantee a capacity crowd at the Estadio Nacional de Lima.The pick: Palmeiras
Católica may be struggling in Chile, but its form in the Sudamericana has been great thus far. The Chileans have looked extremely solid, particularly when playing in Santiago, and have the potential to give Internacional a run for its money. Inter, which knocked out crosstown rival Grêmio in the previous round, hasn't lived up to expectations in the Brazilian league this season, and will feel pressure to win the Sudamericana. With Andrés D'Alessandro, Nilmar, Alex and PabloGuiñazu on the books, Inter boasts one of the most exciting squads on the entire continent, and such an investment means it can't afford to let down its loyal fan base. Both teams will be motivated by the fact that a victory is likely to set up a potential showdown with Boca Juniors in the quarterfinals.The pick: Internacional
Whenever the champions from Argentina and Uruguay clash, you're guaranteed quality soccer. This meeting promises to be all that and much more. River already eliminated Defensor from the quarterfinal stage of the competition last year on the away-goals rule, and the hard-working Uruguayans will be seeking sweet revenge. What boosts Defensor's chances of advancing is the fact that River is currently in an embarrassing 17th place in the 20-team Argentine First Division, with only one win in its first seven matches. Despite its deep struggles, River will welcome the return of Uruguayan striker and former Defensor player Sebastián Abreu, who could well be the player who decides the outcome of the matchup.The pick: River Plate