Because South America's biggest clubs are constantly forced to export their best players to Europe, there is almost always one surprise package that makes it to the semifinals of the South America's championship, the Copa Libertadores, writes SI.com's Tim Vickery. Colombian club Cucuta is the team that fits that bill this year, he says. It joined in the final four alongside Brazilian powerhouses Santos and Gremio, and the perennial Argentine favorite, Boca Juniors.
Cucuta, a trade city close to the Venezuelan border, begins its two-leg semifinal series Thursday at home to mighty Boca of Buenos Aires. Vickery notes that the last time a Colombian team got this far, tiny Once Caldas of Manizales actually won the competition, beating the very same Boca in the final on penalties. And if Once Caldas was a surprise then, he says Cucuta must be something closer to a shock.
Unlike Cucuta, Caldas had the experience of two prior appearances in the Copa Libertadores under its belt when it won in 2004. And as the Manizales team was beating the Argentine giant, Cucuta was languishing in the Colombian Second Division, where it was averaging around 300 spectators per game. To come all the way to the semifinals in such a short period is an accomplishment in and of itself, he says, but Cucuta plays a very watchable brand of soccer and is equally capable of pulling off another unlikely upset.