Brazil and Argentina show continental dominance in Copa Libertadores
The eight quarterfinal places will be filled this week in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. And there is a real possibility -- perhaps danger might be a more appropriate word -- that all eight of them will go the continent's big two nations: Brazil and Argentina.
A couple are guaranteed. There is an all-Brazilian clash, where Santos are favourites after winning 3-2 away to Atletico Paranaense in last month's first leg. And there is a Brazil-Argentina clash, where Brazilian side Gremio kick off with a big advantage after beating Godoy Cruz 1-0 in Argentina.
Godoy Cruz may be up against it, but three other Argentine sides are in strong positions. All are at home this week. River Plate kick off 2-0 up against Guarani of Paraguay; San Lorenzo are a goal up against Emelec of Ecuador; Lanus, who get the week underway on Tuesday, will consider that they did the hard work last month when they drew 1-1 away to The Strongest at the extreme altitude of La Paz.
And one more Brazilian side is in the driving seat: Botafogo beat Nacional of Uruguay by the only goal in Montevideo last month, so a draw in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday night will be good enough to secure their slot.
It will, then, be a surprise if Brazil and Argentina do not share at least six of the last eight, and they may claim the lot -- depending on the reaction of two Brazilian clubs who went down to 1-0 defeats a month ago.
Atletico Mineiro will still see themselves as favourites against Jorge Wilstermann of Bolivia -- Wilstermann have been this year's surprise side, but their success has been based on good performances at home, backed by the altitude of Cochabamba. They have been beaten in all of their away games and will surely have to come up with some heroic resistance in Belo Horizonte to keep their story going.
The most intriguing tie involves Palmeiras, the Brazilian champions, who hardly crossed the halfway line in the first leg when they went down to Barcelona of Ecuador. Unlike Wilstermann, Barcelona are dangerous opponents away from home, thoroughly proficient on the counter attack. And with the away goals rule in operation, if they score one, Palmeiras will need three.
But there is a good chance of all eight progressing. The empire has struck back after the events of last year, when Colombia's Atletico Nacional beat Independiente del Valle of Ecuador in the final -- the first time since 1991 that the decider did not feature a representative from the traditional big two.
A similar pattern is developing in the Copa Sudamericana, the Europa League equivalent, where Brazil and Argentina supply 10 of the last 16, leaving three places for Paraguay, two for Colombia and one for Ecuador.
Part of this has to do with the changes made to the calendar and organisation this year. Firstly, Brazil and Argentina have been given more slots. Secondly, both competitions now take place over the full course of the year, instead of the previous state of affairs in which one was played before the other. This surely hands the Brazilian clubs an advantage, since their season follows the calendar year, and does not pause for a mid-year break. At this stage of the season they are in full swing, taking on opponents who are often short of match practice.
Given the huge financial advantage that Brazil's clubs enjoy over the rest of the continent, their failure in recent years is nothing short of extraordinary. When little Chapecoense reached the ill-fated final of last year's Sudamericana, it was the first time a Brazilian club had got all the way to a continental decider since 2013.
The Brazilians are looking a good bet for 2017, but they will need to overcome opposition from Argentina.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.