Copa Libertadores vs CONCACAF Champions League – What’s The Difference?

There are quite a few football competitions where teams from different countries will play against each other.

Such games take place at both club and international levels.

If you’re from North America, you may have seen your club side compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. However, if your country is in South America, your club may participate in the Copa Libertadores. 

You may ponder which one is better and how are these competitions different?

Here’s what you need to know:

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The difference between Copa Libertadores and CONCACAF Champions League

The Copa Libertadores is the top continental competition for South America hosted by CONMEBOL.

On the other hand, CONCACAF Champions League is the highest club competition for North, Central America & the Caribbean which is hosted by CONCACAF

Although the best clubs from the respective regions participate in both competitions, they differ in several aspects.

Here is an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

The CONCACAF Champions League has 16 teams in the actual tournament. Meanwhile, the Copa Libertadores consists of 32 teams

Origin of teams

The CONCACAF Champions League is organized by CONCACAF for the best clubs in Central, North America & the Caribbean. Only the best performing teams in countries all across the continent participate. 

Meanwhile, the clubs that participate in the Copa Libertadores originate from South American countries who belong to the CONMEBOL football association.

There are only 10 member countries in CONMEBOL, and all of their clubs participate in the prestigious competition.

Here are some of the top countries from each association:

CONMEBOLCONCACAF 
BrazilMexico
ColombiaUSA
PeruCanada
ArgentinaJamaica
UruguayCosta Rica

Frequency and duration of competition

The CONCACAF Champions League is held every year, usually starting in mid-February. However, the 2021 edition was delayed due to the pandemic with the competition starting in April.

Eventually, it was won by Mexican side CF Monterrey

Most typically, the competition takes place across two months from February to April or early May. The 2021 edition started in April due to the pandemic and concluded in October.

Thus, major leagues in North America continue playing long after the CONCACAFCL is concluded.

The Copa Libertadores occurs on a yearly basis, as part of the club football calendar. As such, it usually runs between February to November in the same year. 

Qualifying rounds for the Copa Libertadores usually commence in February, while the actual fixtures start in April until the final in November

As such, the schedules are slightly different for the CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Libertadores. Both competitions start around the same time but the Copa Libertadores is held longer than their CONCACAF counterparts.

For example, the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League has already been concluded unlike the 2022 Copa Libertadores which is yet to commence the Round of 16.

Format of competition

The CONCACAF Champions League employs a knockout format throughout the tournament, starting from the round of 16. 

The old Champions League format had a group stage and subsequent knockout rounds before it was changed for the 2017/2018 season. 

More changes are set to be made effective from the 2023 season.

Each of the 16 teams is drawn in a two-legged home and away tie in every round. This means that each fixture is held twice to even out the home advantage.

The CONCACAF Champions League final is also organized in a home/away format.

If a tie is equal after the second leg, the away goal rule is the first tiebreaker. This means teams that outscored their opponents on the away grounds progress to the next round. 

However, if the tie remains equal after extratime has been played, the victor will be decided by penalty shootout.

Guadalajara won the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League after a victorious penalty shootout against Toronto FC. Both legs ended 2-1 and a 3-3 on aggregate, which remained level after extra time and led to penalties.

On the other hand, the Copa Libertadores features group stage matches before progressing to the knockout rounds. The top 2 teams from each group will progress to the knockout stages, starting with the round of 16.

Meanwhile, the 3rd placed teams will enter the knockout rounds of Copa Sudamericana, CONMEBOL’s secondary continental tournament.

The knockout rounds of Copa Libertadores feature home/away matches from the round of 16 to the semifinals. Away goals and penalties after extra time also weigh in as tiebreakers.

However, Copa Libertadores final is a single-legged match contested at a neutral venue.

Palmeiras won the single-legged 2021 final in a 2-1 victory over fellow brazilian team, Flamengo. The match was contested at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay.

2-legged ties in the knockout rounds

Both the CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Libertadores contain 2 legs for each knockout round. This means that the teams will play both at home and away.

Copa Libertadores finals are the only one-legged rounds during the knockout stages of either competition. 

In the past, the Copa Libertadores finals were contested across two legs, where the finalists had to play both home and away. However, the finals were changed to a single leg ever since the 2019 Copa Libertadores.

Likewise, the CONCACAFCL will undergo an overhaul which will change several aspects of the competition including making the final a single-legged affair.

Number of matches

Assuming your team makes it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, they will have played 8 matches:

RoundNumber of Matches
Round of 162
Quarter Finals2
Semifinals2
Final2

Meanwhile in the Copa Libertadores, your team will require 5 more matches, from the group stage, for a total of 13. Here is the summary of matches played in from the Group Stages to the final:

RoundNumber of Matches
Group Stage6
Round of 162
Quarter Finals2
Semifinals2
Final1

As such, the maximum number of matches that you can play is 13. If your team gets knocked out in the earlier stages, they will play fewer matches.

Flamengo contested 13 matches in total before clinching the 2019 Copa Libertadores title. The scarlet-blacks aced their final obstacle against River Plate in the final.

However, teams that go through the qualifiers route will contest more matches if they reach the final. If your team enters at the first qualifying stage, they will have to play 6 more matches!

Squad size

The CONCACAF Champions League allows clubs to submit a roster of 30 players eligible to play the competition at least 7 days before their first CONCACAFCL game. 

A final list of 23 players will then be submitted no less than 48 hours before every game. Only 18 players are allowed in a matchday squad from the prior 23 names, consisting of 11 starting players and 7 substitutes. 

CONMEBOL permits clubs to register up to 50 players for the Copa Libertadores season. However, clubs are required to submit a maximum squad list of 23 players for each matchday. 

Qualification for competition

16 teams from 3 different zones participate in the CONCACAF Champions League.

RegionNumber of teams
North American Zone9
Caribbean Zone1
Central American Zone6

The Caribbean Zone spot is awarded to the club that wins the Caribbean Club Championship.

CONCACAF awards the highest number of spots to the North American Zone, these teams will come from these countries:

Mexico4
USA4
Canada

For Canadian teams in the MLS, they will qualify via the single Canadian spot, instead of the 4 US spots.

The other six spots in the CONCACAF Champions League are awarded to the top-placed six teams from the secondary continental tournament, CONCACAF League.

CONCACAF also reserves the right to withdraw a club’s champions league spot if they fail to satisfy the stadium requirements.

On the other hand, Copa Libertadores qualification is quite different. CONMEBOL grants direct qualification to the group stage and also provides an alternate route via qualifying rounds. 

CountryNumber of teams
Brazil5
Argentina5
Colombia2
Uruguay2
Bolivia2
Chile2
Peru2
Venezuela2
Ecuador2
Paraguay2

In the Copa Libertadores, Brazil and Argentina have the highest number of slots allocated to them (5). Meanwhile, the other 8 countries have 2 guaranteed slots each which may increase depending on the outcome of the qualifying rounds.

Qualification spots are awarded to the domestic champions and runners-up of the respective leagues. However, Brazil and Argentina are awarded spots for the domestic cup champions and the third to fourth placed league teams. 

Defending champions of Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana also gain automatic qualification to the group stages.

The Copa Libertadores qualifying phase is organized in three separate stages:

  • First Stage
  • Second Stage
  • Third Stage

Up to 19 teams contest the qualifying rounds for just 4 spots in the group stage.

At the first stage, six teams enter the qualifying rounds and only three progress to the Second stage. The next round features an additional 16 teams who compete to reach the next stage.

By the third stage, only eight teams remain for a chance to clinch the four spots.

Estudiantes finished top of Group C in the Copa Libertadores. They came through the qualifying rounds after thumping Everton and Audax Italiano.

Loan player rules

Some competitions like the Premier League explicitly state that loan players cannot play against their parent club in Premier League matches.

However, CONCACAF or CONMEBOL maintain no such rules. This means that loaned players are able to play against their parent clubs.

Rewards for winning competition

The winners of the CONCACAF Champions League will be crowned the best club in the vast territory of North America, Central America and the Caribbean

In addition to lifting the prestigious trophy, the CONCACAF champions are awarded a prize money of $500,000. 

Monterrey is the most successful club in the CONCACAF Champions League era with 5 triumphs in total. Their last win came in 2021 over Club America.

Furthermore, they will automatically qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-finals where they compete for the title of world champions. 

Copa Libertadores winners will claim the coveted title of South America for that period and are awarded a badge to immortalise the triumph on the prestigious La Copa trophy. 

They immediately qualify for the next season’s edition and will also play the continental Super Cup, the Recopa Sudamericana, against Copa Sudamericana champions.

Independiente remains the most successful club in Copa Libertadores history. However, their last title came in 1984 and they have not played in a final since then. 

South American champions gain direct entry to the FIFA Club World Cup Quarter Finals alongside other continental champions. They will receive up to $22.5 million in prize money for their superb efforts.

Corinthians triumphed over Chelsea to become World Champions after winning the Copa Libertadores in the same year.

Dominance of teams

In this section, we will be looking at the dominance of the teams from the different countries since the 2015/16 season:

Mexico (5)Argentina (1)
USA (1)Brazil (4)
Colombia (1)

The CONCACAF Champions League is dominated by Mexican teams. In fact, Mexican teams have won the competition ever since 2006 until Seattle Sounders broke the spell after winning against UNAM, another Mexican club, in the 2022 final.

No team outside the North American Zone has contested the CONCACAFCL final since 2008 when Costa Rica’s Saprissa lost to Mexico’s Pachuca.

Meanwhile, the Copa Libertadores is mainly dominated by Brazilian and Argentinian teams, which includes the likes of:

  • River Plate
  • Boca Juniors
  • Flamengo
  • Palmeiras

Gremio won the Copa Libertadores over Lanus in 2017. Since then, only Argentinian and Brazilian teams have contested in the final.

Verdict

Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

Copa LibertadoresCONCACAF Champions League
Numberof teams3216
Originof teamsSouth America
(CONMEBOL)
North America, Central America
and the Caribbean
(CONCACAF)
FrequencyAnnuallyAnnually
Duration9 months
(Feb – Nov)
2-3 months
(Feb – May)
FormatGroup stage
+ knockout rounds
Knockout rounds
2-legged tiesPresentPresent
Away goals rulePresentPresent
Number of matchesMaximum of 13 (Additional 6 from qualification rounds)Maximum of 8
Squad size23 players for each matchday squad (clubs are permitted to register up to 50 players in total)23 players for each matchday squad (clubs are permitted to register up to 30 players in total)
QualificationLeague position,
Copa Libertadores and
Copa Sudamericana winners
Zonal qualification
Loan player rulesCan play againstparent clubCan play against
parent club
Qualification for
next season’s
competition
YesYes
Qualificationfor Super CupRecopa
Sudamericana
 
Qualification for FIFA Club World CupQuarter FinalsQuarter Finals
Dominance
of teams
Little varietyLittle variety

Both of them are rather similar!

Conclusion

Both the CONCACAF Champions League and the Copa Libertadores are prestigious continental competitions. There are several distinguishing features between them.

However, the main difference is that Copa Libertadores involves teams from South America while the CONCACAF Champions League involves clubs from North America, Central America & the Caribbean.

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