Honorable Mention- Guangzhou Evergrande
Guangzhou won the weak Chinese league with ease, and the Asian Champions League may yet show their real ability. Coached by World Cup winner Marcelo Lippi, they have already become the first Chinese side to reach the quarterfinals of that competition, but they still haven’t played a strong opponent. The draw for the quarterfinals is on June 14th.
10. Velez Sarsfield
Velez are one of Argentina’s better sides, but they are miles behind domestic champions Boca Juniors. In continental competition, they were a penalty shootout away from eliminating holders Santos and making the Copa Libertadores semis.
9. Vasco de Gama
Vasco overachieved in reaching the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s version of the Europa League, the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores, and finishing second in the Brasileiro. Truth be told, they were unspectacular in the continental competitions, and their thin squad will probably not be able to contend on the domestic front this season.
8. Ulsan Hyundai
Arguably the most impressive team in the AFC Champions League so far, Ulsan Hyundai only finished 6th in the regular season tables in South Korea, but were a different team in the play-offs, reaching the final, where they were beaten by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Their next goals are to become champions of Asia and to do well in the Korean FA Cup, but they must also prove to their fans that they are more than just a cup team.
The North American champions lost the Mexican Clausura final (In most South American countries, the season is divided into two parts- the apertura, or “opening”, and clausura, or “closing”) to Santos Laguna, after a disappointing regular season, in which they finished tied for second, five points below Santos. The Libertadores performances of Mexican clubs show that the league as a whole is well below the level of the top South American leagues, but this is still a very good side.
They were very unlucky to get drawn against Boca Juniors in both the group stage and the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores. They finished 3rd in the Brazilian Serie A last season, and are again one of the favorites to win the league this year.
5. Santos Laguna
This Mexican side were very impressive in the CONCACAF Champions League, ultimately losing in the final to Monterrey. The squad remained hungry for trophies, and defeated the same opponents in the Clausura final.
4. Universidad de Chile
Universidad de Chile dominated every competition they have entered in the last year, most impressively winning the Copa Sudamericana, with a style very similar to Barcelona’s. They also won the 2011 Apertura and Clausura, and are hot favorites to win the 2012 Apertura, after finishing first in the regular season. They proved it was no fluke by advancing to the Libertadores semifinals, where they face a very, very tough task— namely, the three sides ahead of them. Boca Juniors are their opponents, while the second semifinal is an all Brazilian affair between Corinthians and Santos. Can the Chilean side continue their amazing run?
The famous club of Pele, and now starlets Neymar and Ganso, made up for finishing 10th in the Brazilian League with two cup runs. They won their third straight Sao Paulo state championship, and, after making the Libertadores semifinals, are favorites to win a second consecutive continental trophy.
2. Boca Juniors
With their rivals River Plate in the second division (they are likely to get promoted in July), Boca Juniors went on an almighty run in the Apertura, conceding 6 goals in 19 matches, and winning by 11 points. Although not as impressive in the Clausura, they are still three points ahead of the pack with three games to go. After four thrilling clashes with Fluminense, Boca emerged on top, qualifying for the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores. They are very, very close to being the best team in South America.
The best team in South America’s best league, Corinthians won their fifth Brazilian title and cruised to the continental semifinals without breaking a sweat, unlike the other three remaining participants, who were all severely tested. If anything, they could use a good goal scorer, something semifinal opponents Santos do not lack. Worryingly,both of their games in the new Brazilian season have been 1-0 losses, and Santos, Boca, and Universidad de Chile will see a chance that they can take over as the best team in South America.