On Wednesday, South America's version of the Super Cup kicks off at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, Chile. The two-leg competition is a meeting of the 2011 Copa Libertadores champions Santos and Copa Sudamericana winners Universidad de Chile, South America's equivalent of the Champions League and the Europa League. Like UEFA's Super Cup, the championship is ceremonial, with only the Copa Libertadores winner advancing to FIFA's Club World Cup.
Unlike the European version, the Recopa plays out over two-legs held a month apart. The deciding game between Universidad de Chile and Santos is set for September. Santos as the Copa Libertadores winner hosts the second-leg. In an additional twist, the current Copa Libertadores champion doesn't participate until the following year due to the Copa Sudamericana schedule. The 2012 Sudamericana is ongoing - there's a game on the same night as the Recopa opener- but the Libertadores already crowned Corinthians champions on July 4th. that qualified Corinthians for the 2012 Club World Cup later this year in Japan. Santos, as the 2011 Libertadores winner, participated in the 2011 Club World Cup finishing 2nd to winner Barcelona.
So why the need for the Recopa? It's a good question, with the tournament not fitting well into the South American calendar. The second stage of the 2012 Copa Sudamericana doesn't end until the middle of September, with the tournament concluding on December 12th. Again, in yet another conflict on the South American calendar, that's the same date the current Copa Libertadores champions will be playing in the Club World Cup semifinals in Toyota, Japan.
The first year for the current version of the Recopa was 1989. That predates the Copa Sudamericana, the replacement for the Copa Merconte and Copa Mercusor, with those tournaments replacing the original Supercopa Sudamericana that supplied the opponent for the Libertadores winner in the early years of the Recopa. Confused yet? Depending on your point of view, it either gets worse or even more interesting.
When the Recopa started in 1989, it kicked off in late January and early February. All well and good, but logistics turned the tournament into a one-game final played in the United States. In the period between the end of the original North American Soccer League and the start of Major League Soccer, CONMEBOL contested its confederation club super cup at Miami's Orange Bowl. In 1991, there was no Recopa because the same team won the Libertadores and the Supercopa Sudamericana. As Homer Simpson once reminded us, "Default? Woo hoo! The two sweetest words in the English language...."
In 1992, CONMEBOL moved the final to Kobe, Japan. The following year it was back in South America with the competing teams playing a home-and-away series played in September. The tournament was back in Japan in '95, and didn't return to South America until 1999. That was the final where instead of the away team enjoying a moment in the spotlight to lift their trophy, the gracious losers hit the off switch and turned on the sprinklers. Credit River Plate for taking it seriously, but they lost the series 5-0. The tournament itself went dark as well, with the 1998 Recopa (held in August of 1999, but backdated to solve the waiting problem) the last played until 2003.
Why the break? No more Supercopa Sudamericana to supply the opponent. That tournament ceased in 1997. Yes, that meant playing the 1998 Recopa Sudamericana in 1999 with the 1997 winners of the Copa Libertadores and Supercopa Sudamericana. Things needed to change.
2003 is the first year of the modern version of the tournament, but it still had yet to shake its past. With the new Copa Sudamericana providing the opposition for the Libertadores winner, the Recopa turned into a one-game final at LA's Memorial Stadium. The next year, it moved to Lockhart in Fort Lauderdale. In 2005, the Recopa was once again two-legs hosted by the participating teams. Though the date has moved from as early as May to as late as September, that's stayed the format.
So why would an American soccer site be so interested in detailing South America's somewhat overlooked Super Cup? Well, it's already possible that a Mexican club could win one or both tournaments, returning the Recopa to North America with all to play for.