History of the South American Cup

24 August, 2020
The history of the South American Cup is fairly short, since its first edition was in 2002. It's the second most important international tournament in South America, after the Copa Libertadores.

The South American Cup -or Copa Sudamericana- is the second most important international competition played on the American continent, after the Copa Libertadores. It’s organized by Conmebol. Here we’ll tell you more about the South American Cup.

Beginnings of the South American Cup

Unlike the Copa Libertadores, which was born in 1960, the South American Cup came into existence in the new millennium. To be more precise, it began in 2002. It was one year before that the South American Soccer Confederation, known as Conmebol, decided to unify continental tournaments.

Due to the delay in organizing the first edition, a curious fact is that Brazilian teams didn’t participate, since they already had their schedules organized. The Brazilian teams joined the next edition in 2003.

Argentines were the protagonists at the beginning

The first champion was the Argentine team San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the big five in the country. They qualified for the South American Cup after winning the Copa Mercosur of 2001, the last time it was played.

In the final, they played the Colombian team Atlético Nacional, who they defeated 4-0 in the first leg in Medellin. The follow-up game in Buenos Aires ended in a 0-0 tie, which crowned the Ciclon’s as champions.

The underdogs

The second champion was a less well-known team, the Peruvian Cienciano. It was a truly historical moment for soccer both for the country and the continent. In the end, they won no more and no less than the Argentine River Plate.

In the 2004 and 2005 editions of the South American Cup, there was the first -and until today, the only- two-time champion in history: the Boca JuniorsThe Xeneize, that had Carlos Tevez in their ranks, defeated Bolivar of Bolivia in the final. Although in the first leg, they lost 1-0 in La Paz, in the follow-up match they won 2-0 in the mythical Bombonera.

South American players

For the championship, the UNAM Pumas of Mexico won through penalties. Their goalie, Roberto Abbondanzieri, was the hero of the game after trapping two shots and converting the last of the series.

Other champions of the South American Cup

The following champions of this international competition are:

  • The Pachuca of México in 2006 (beat Colo Colo of Chile in the final).
  • The Arsenal of Argentina in 2007 (beat América de México).
  • The Internacional of Brasil in 2008 (beat Estudiantes de Argentina).
  • The Liga Deportiva Universitaria of Quito, Ecuador in 2009 (after beating Fluminense of Brasil).
  • The Independiente of Argentina in 2010 (after defeating Goiás of Brasil).
  • The Universidad of Chile in 2011 (after defeating Liga de Quito).
  • The Sao Paulo of Brasil in 2012 (beat the Tigre of Argentina).
  • The Lanús of Argentina in 2013 (defeated Ponte Preta of Brasil).
  • The River Plate of Argentina in 2014 (beat Atlético Nacional of Colombia).
  • The Santa Fe of Colombia in 2015 (after beating Huracán of Argentina).
  • The Chapecoense of Brasil in 2016.
Chapecoense Champions

The tragedy of Chapecoense

In this last case, the most tragic event in the history of this Cup occurred. After Chapecoense lived their moment of maximum glory, they traveled to Medellin to play the final against Atlético Nacional. On the way, the plane crashed and killed 71 people, including the majority of the players. 

In a gesture of total chivalry, Atlético Nacional ceded the title to their rivals. This gave the Brazilian team their first international title in their history. 

Recent champions

Since 2017, the competition has been called Copa Conmebol Sudamericana. The champions have been: Independiente of Argentina (after beating Flamengo of Brasil); Atletico Paranaense of Brasil in 2018 (after defeating Junior of Colombia) and Independiente del Valle of Ecuador in 2019 (after defeating Colon of Argentina in a single match in a neutral stadium).

Competition System of the South American Cup

Since the 2017 edition, there have been 54 teams that have participated in this cup. For the classification, there are three phases:

  • In the first phase, with 44 teams, 22 of them are in the northern zone of the continent (six in Brazil and four between Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru.) In the southern zone (six in Argentina and four between Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile).
  • The second phase of classifications with 32 teams. Eight third places in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores and the two best losers of phase 3 of the Libertadores.
  • The final phase, with 16 teams. These teams are paired in eight keys with round trip matches to qualify until the final.

Since the South American Cup of 2019, the final match has been played in a neutral stadium. In this edition, it was in Asuncion in Paraguay. 

The prized trophy

The winners of the South American Cup take a trophy that they keep until the next edition. The trophy in question is made of silver and is smaller than the trophy that’s given to the champions of the Copa Libertadores. It has a ball on the top part and the name of the competition in gold with the CONMEBOL logo.

South American Cup Trophy

On the base of the trophy, there’s a plaque with the winners and years of the championships. Until now, the trophy is the original that’s been used since the first edition in 2002.

To finish, we have to note that Boca Juniors and el Independiente -both Argentine teams- are the only teams that have won the Copa Sudamerica twice. But many have dreams of meeting and beating this record!


  • El Comercio – Conmebol anunció cambios reglamentarios en la Copa Libertadores y Sudamericana – Mayo 2020 – https://elcomercio.pe/deporte-total/futbol-mundial/conmebol-anuncio-cambios-reglamentarios-en-la-copa-libertadores-y-sudamericana-post-suspension-por-coronavirus-alianza-lima-nczd-noticia/
  • ESPN – Los goleadores colombianos en la historia de la Copa Conmebol Sudamericana – Abril 2020 – https://www.espn.com.ar/futbol/copa-sudamericana/nota/_/id/6818101/los-goleadores-colombianos-en-la-historia-de-la-copa-conmebol-sudamericana