Last year's champions of the Copa Libertadores will not be retaining their title. Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo were dumped out of the competition 3-2 on aggregate by Olimpia of Paraguay -- an outcome that, given the financial and technical disparity between the two teams, must surely count as one of the biggest surprises for some time in South America's Champions League.
When the teams met two years ago, Flamengo cruised through 9-2 over two legs. Olimpia have been in desperately poor domestic form, and found themselves down two goals in this contest. After 90 minutes of somewhat laboured pressure in front of their own fans, Flamengo built a 1-0 first leg lead and added to it in the early stages in Asuncion. But the team then seemed caught on the horns of the dilemma.
Usually sides coached by Jorge Sampaoli maintain a dynamic high press. This time, though, Olimpia seemed so open to the counterattack that Flamengo fell into the temptation of sitting back to create space to explode on the break. They ended up inviting some dangerous pressure, and fell to three headed goals, the last two in quick succession near the end from corners.
The other giants to fall at this stage were River Plate from Argentina, eliminated by Internacional of Brazil after a bizarre penalty shootout. River coach Martin Demichelis has produced an attractive passing side -- but all through the competition their defence has looked vulnerable, especially away from home.
It caved in once more, and a first leg 2-1 win at home in Buenos Aires was reversed in Porto Alegre. And so it went to a shootout, which dragged on and on. No one missed. River's Pablo Solari scored with the 13th kick of the sequence -- but it was ruled out. Solari had slipped as he set up to take his shot, and was adjudged to have struck the ball twice. Inter's Carlos de Pena had the chance to clinch but shot wide. The referee decided that the area around the penalty spot had become so muddy that the contest would have to proceed at the other end -- where, with the 20th kick, Inter keeper Sergio Rochet confirmed his hero status by blasting home and confirming his side's place in the last eight.
River's exit has already had consequences in the transfer market. Centre-forward Lucas Beltran is on his way to Fiorentina, and Uruguayan attacking midfielder Nico de La Cruz could well be packing his bags as well -- blows eased by the return of old heroes Manuel Lanzini and Pity Martinez.
There could be more transfer fallout from the elimination -- also on penalties -- of Brazil's Athletico Paranaense. Last year's runners-up bow out after a 3-3 draw against Bolivar of Bolívia. Barcelona have already made the deal for Athletico's teenage centre-forward Vitor Roque. But with the Brazilian club keen to win their first Libertadores title, they had planned to keep hold of him for another year. There could well be pressure from Spain to take him across the Atlantic sooner, especially if Barcelona can sort out their financial problems.
And another Athletico player who could be on the move is goalkeeper Bento, who has been of interest to Inter Milan. Athletico were hoping to hold on to him for the Libertadores campaign, and also in the hope that he might receive a Brazil call-up, thus increasing his transfer value. There may now be a rethink.
The other tie that went to penalties was between Boca Juniors of Argentina and Nacional of Uruguay.
After a 2-2 draw, Boca celebrated Edinson Cavani's debut with shootout success -- and now go on to an all-Argentine quarterfinal against Racing, who overcame a 4-2 first-leg deficit to Colombia's Atletico Nacional with a rousing 3-0 home win.
The other quarterfinal in that half of the draw pits Palmeiras of Brazil, winners in 2020 and '21, against this year's big surprise team, tournament debutants Deportivo Pereira of Colombia. Bolivar's reward for overcoming Brazilian opposition is to face some more. They meet Internacional. And after getting past one Rio de Janeiro side in Flamengo, Olimpia now meet another. Fluminense made hard work of it, but eventually got past Argentinos Juniors 3-1 on aggregate.
This is another tie with a knock-on effect on the transfer market. Liverpool have been expressing an interest in André, Fluminense's defensive midfielder. It is not hard to see why. In a front-loaded team, André has to cover plenty of space, and in a side that insist on playing out from the back, he repeatedly has to receive the ball in pressure situations. Excellent club form took the 22-year-old close to Brazil's World Cup squad, and Fluminense are aware that they will have to transfer him on soon.
But not yet. The club has never won the Libertadores, and he is a huge part of their quest to put that right. Tuesday's match against Argentinos Juniors was by no means his finest 90 minutes -- he was lucky not to give away a goal, a penalty and maybe get a red card. But it seems that this game will not be his farewell.
The quarterfinals are coming up, and Fluminense are strong favourites to get past Olimpia. The matches are completed just before the transfer window slams shut -- with Fluminense trusting that they have a semifinal to look forward to, and that they can hang on to Andre for a few months more.