Copa Libertadores vs Copa Sudamericana

Copa Libertadores vs Copa Sudamericana – What’s The Difference?

Last updated on March 2nd, 2022

There are quite a few competitions that CONMEBOL hosts including the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.

Have you ever wondered how these competitions are different and which one is better?

Here’s what you need to know:

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The difference between Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana

Both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana are top South American competitions. However, based on the teams that qualify for both competitions, club sides in the Copa Libertadores are generally stronger than the sides in the Copa Sudamericana. 

Here’s an in-depth comparison of these two competitions:

Number of teams involved

The Copa Sudamericana is contested by 54 teams in total. 44 of them qualify directly from their leagues, while the other 10 sides comprise the best-eliminated sides from the Copa Libertadores.

Up until 2016, the competition used a 47-team knockout format

Meanwhile, the main Copa Libertadores tournament consists of 32 teams (8 groups of 4). Only 28 of them qualify directly for the tournament. 4 extra teams qualify for the group stage from a 19-team preliminary round

Frequency and duration of the competition

Both competitions are played annually as part of the football calendar in South America.  

Both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana are played nearly year-round, usually beginning in February or March, and concluding in November or December.

The qualification rounds for the Copa Sudamericana usually begin about a month before the actual competition starts. For the Copa Libertadores, the preliminary rounds begin in February while the group stage starts in April.

Due to both competitions running concurrently, teams are forbidden from competing in both tournaments at the same time.

Format of the competition

Past the preliminary qualifying rounds, both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores employ a group phase and knockout format. Each group consists of 4 teams that will face each other home and away.

For the Copa Sudamericana, only the top-placed team from each group qualifies for the knockouts. They will be drawn randomly against the eight 3rd placed teams from the Copa Libertadores group stage rounds.

UEFA also uses a similar format. The eight 3rd placed sides from the UEFA Champions League group stage drop down to contest for the UEFA Europa League trophy.

The 16 remaining teams in the competition then face off in a knockout format till the final.

The Copa Libertadores follows a largely similar format. However, one key difference is that the 16 teams that qualify for the knockouts comprise the top two teams from each group. 

If you’re wondering what happens if two teams finish on the same points in the group stage of either competition, you can check out this article for more information.

 2-legged knockout ties

Both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores use 2 legged matches to determine the winner of knockout games. This means each team will play a home and away game.

The final is the only single-legged knockout round of either competition   

The finals of both the Copa Sudamericana and Copa Libertadores used to be two-legged home and away ties. However, Conmebol changed the format to one-legged finals ahead of the 2019 edition of both tournaments.

The reason for double-legged ties in most football competitions is to avoid an “unfair” advantage to either team. Playing both home and away ensures both teams get to perform with the support of their home fans.

Get the latest action in the Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana on Fanatiz, where you can stream the latest matches from your devices or TV.

Away goal rule

Both competitions implement the use of away goals. This rule will take effect in both competitions if there is a tie on aggregate after the second leg of the round is over.

This means that the team with more away goals at the end of the tie will progress

For example, the 2021 Copa Libertadores semi-finals between Atletico Mineiro and Palmeiras finished 1-1 on aggregate after the second leg. However, Palmeiras would advance to the final because they scored a goal at Atletico Mineiro’s stadium in the second leg.

UEFA scrapped the away goal rule for all Champions League and Europa League games from the 21/22 season onwards. However, CONMEBOL has shown no willingness to change this format. 

If the teams are tied on aggregate score and away goals after both games, the game will go straight to penalties without extra time.

Origin of teams

Both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores are played by teams that originate from a member country of CONMEBOL. This consists of the 10 countries from South America.

Teams from other regions like Europe and North America will have to compete in the continental competition where their country is from, e.g. UEFA and CONCACAF tournaments

Qualification for the tournament

Who qualifies for either tournament is mostly determined by their performance in their domestic competitions:

Copa LibertadoresCopa Sudamericana
League PositionChampions to top 6 (depending
on the country)
Best performing teams that
don’t qualify for Copa Libertadores
Cup winnersYesNo
Previous
season’s winners
Copa Sudamericana winners and
Copa Libertadores winners
No
3rd place teamNoThe 3rd placed team from every Copa Libertadores
group qualifies for the knockout rounds

Here is a breakdown of each method for qualifying:

#1 League position

The Copa Libertadores contains the better quality sides due to it being the continent’s premier club competition. Hence, Argentina and Brazil are represented the most at the tournament as they are considered the best leagues by CONMEBOL.

Here is the distribution of Copa Libertadores clubs by league performance:

CountryFirst Qualification
Round
Second Qualification
Round
Group Stage
Brazil 24
Argentina 14
Chile 12
Colombia 12
Bolivia112
Ecuador112
Paraguay112
Peru112
Uruguay112
Venezuela112

Brazil, Argentina, and Chile are the only South American countries to adopt a European league format. The other countries play a league system called the Apertura and Clausura.

Teams contesting in the Copa Sudamericana are mostly the best performing teams that didn’t qualify for the Copa Libertadores through their leagues.  

Here is the distribution of Copa Sudamericana clubs by league performance:

CountryFirst Qualification RoundGroup Stage
Brazil 6
Argentina 6
Chile4 
Colombia4 
Bolivia4 
Ecuador4 
Paraguay4 
Peru4 
Uruguay4 
Venezuela4 

12 teams from Brazil and Argentina are given straight passage to the group stage of the Copa Sudamericana. 4 teams each from the other eight CONMEBOL associations (32 teams in total) will need to play a qualifying round to get to the group stage from which 16 will qualify.

The 4 teams that were eliminated in Copa Libertadores early qualifying rounds will become eligible for the group stage of the Copa Sudamericana. This completes the 32-team group stages for the Copa Sudamericana.

#2 Cup Winners

There are no slots for cup winners in the Copa Sudamericana. However, CONMEBOL rewards some domestic cup winners with a place in the Copa Libertadores.

CountryFirst Qualification RoundSecond Qualification RoundGroup Stage
Brazil  Champions of
Copa do Brasil
Argentina  Champions of
Copa Argentina
Chile Champions of
Copa Chile
 
Colombia Champions of
Copa Colombia
 

Cup winners in these four countries are granted access to the Copa Libertadores if they fail to qualify via their domestic league.

#3 Previous Season’s winners

The winners of both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores qualify automatically for a place in the next season’s Copa Libertadores group stage.   

#4 Third-Place Teams

The 8 third-placed teams from the Copa Libertadores group stages qualify automatically for the last 16 of the Copa Sudamericana.

Number of Matches

Here are the number of matches you’ll play if you reach the final from the group stages of both competitions:

RoundNumber of Matches
Group Stage6
Round of 162
Quarter-finals2
Semi-finals2
Final1

As such, the maximum number of games you can play for each competition is 13.

Squad size

Since both the Copa Sudamericana and Copa Libertadores are organized by CONMEBOL, they have a similar set of rules regarding squad size and player registration.

Each team is allowed to name a list of 30 players involving at least 3 goalkeepers. However, a maximum of 23 players are to be named to the matchday squad. This includes 11 players in the starting XI and 12 players on the bench.

Loan Player Rules

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

However, CONMEBOL does not mention such a rule meaning a loan player can play against their parent club in both the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores.

You can read more about loan player rules here.

Rewards For Winning the Competition

Copa LibertadoresCopa Sudamericana
Next Season’s Copa
Libertadores Group Stage
YesYes
Super Cup YesYes
Prize Money$12,000$500,000

Winning the Copa Libertadores is the highest sporting achievement a club can achieve in South America. Your team will be the champions of the continent, similar to a European club winning the UEFA Champions League.

The champions of the Copa Libertadores will gain automatic qualification for the next season’s tournament’s group stages.

The winners of both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana will play in the Recopa Sudamericana, CONMEBOL’s version of the UEFA Super Cup. 

Moreover, both of them will automatically qualify for the group stages of the next year’s Copa Libertadores.

Dominance of Teams

The Copa Libertadores is mainly dominated by Brazilian and Argentinian sides. This includes the likes of:

  • Palmeiras
  • Boca Juniors
  • River Plate
  • Flamengo

The last time a non-Brazilian or Argentinian side contested the final was Ecuadorian side Independiente Del Valle in 2016.

The Copa Sudamericana isn’t much different, with only two non-Brazil and Argentine sides participating in the final since 2016: Colombian side Junior FC in 2018 and Ecuadorian side Independiente Del Valle in 2019.

Verdict

Here’s the summary of the comparisons between these two competitions:

Copa LibertadoresCopa Sudamericana
Number of Teams3232
Origin of TeamsSouth AmericaSouth America
FrequencyAnnuallyAnnually
Duration9 months9 months
FormatGroup Stage +
Knockouts
Group stage +
Knockouts
2-legged TiesYesYes
Away Goal RuleYesYes
Number of MatchesMaximum of 13Maximum of 13
Squad SizeMaximum of 30Maximum of 30
QualificationLeague position

Cup winners in Brazil, Chile,
Argentina, and Colombia,

Copa Sudamericana and
Copa Libertadores winners
League position
Loan Player RulesCan play
against parent club
Can play
against parent club
Qualification For
Copa Libertadores
YesYes
Qualification For
Recopa Sudamericana
YesYes
Prize Money$12,000,000$5,000,000

Is the Copa Sudamericana better than the Copa Libertadores?

The Copa Sudamericana usually consists of teams with “lesser quality” compared to the Copa Libertadores. This is because the Copa Libertadores contains:

  • The best performers from CONMEBOL-associated leagues
  • The winners of the previous season’s Copa Sudamericana

As such, the games in the Copa Libertadores may be of higher quality compared to the Copa Sudamericana.

Conclusion

The Copa Sudamericana and The Copa Libertadores are two of the best club competitions in South America.

Due to the quality of football shown in the Copa Libertadores, it may be the better competition!

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