Can Ronaldinho and Atletico Mineiro Win the Copa Libertadores Again?

Dan Colasimone@@ArgentinaFWContributor IFebruary 10, 2014

Atletico Mineiro's Ronaldinho, celebrates his goal during the third place soccer match between Guangzhou Evergrande and Atletico Mineiro at the Club World Cup soccer tournament in Marrakech, Morocco, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Christophe Ena/Associated Press

One of the things that makes the Copa Libertadores so enthralling every season is that fact that it is so hard to predict a winner.

In 2014, however, reigning champions Atletico Mineiro, led by the legendary Ronaldinho, are one of the favorites to win the competition for the second year in a row.

If they could pull off that difficult feat, they would become the first side since Boca Juniors in 2000 and 2001 to win South America's most prestigious club competition in back-to-back seasons.

Signs are positive that Ronaldinho and his Galo side can achieve what would be an impressive double.

Brazilian clubs have dominated the Libertadores in recent years, and Atletico Mineiro remain one of the strongest representatives from that country.

As long as motivation remains strong among the playing group, the side from Belo Horizonte will be tough to beat.

They showed their incredible resilience in last year's final, coming back from a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Olimpia of Paraguay to draw level late in the return fixture and eventually win the cup for the first time.

Atletico pulled off a similar comeback in the semi-finals, downing a powerful Newell's Old Boys side 3-0 at home in the second leg after suffering a 2-0 loss in Rosario. 

As is regularly the case when a club achieves success in South America, some of O Galo's standout talents have been poached since they lifted the trophy on July 24.

The 30-man squad, in fact, has 15 changes from last year's version, though the spine of the first team remains similar.

The biggest name to leave was Bernard, who was sold to Shakhtar Donetsk in August. Another starter who is no longer with the club is left-back Junior Cesar, whose loan spell ended.

Those two have been replaced by Fernandinho (Al-Jazira) and Pedro Botelho (Atletico Paranaense) respectively, though the new recruits will have big shoes to fill.

Gilberto Silva, Rafael Marques and Alecsandro Richarlyson have also moved on, and although they were not regular starters in the last campaign, they were all important squad members.

Despite losing such key players, as well as other less-influential names, Atletico should remain a force to be reckoned with thanks to some savvy recruitment.

Tough Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi joins from FC Porto to significantly bolster the Brazilian team's defense, while Jesus Datolo (Internacional) and Andre (Vasco Da Gama) have both been brought in to add further depth. 

And most significantly, of course, was Ronaldinho's decision to re-sign with the club in January, ensuring their star man is once again on board to provide the kind of attacking spark that can make all the difference in the storied competition.

In a career that has seen him win the World Cup, the Champions League and the Copa America, plus a host of individual awards, it was clearly a huge moment for the 33-year-old when he claimed the Libertadores in 2013.

"This is why I came back to Brazil," Ronaldinho said in the aftermath of the win, as reported by Nik Simon of The Daily Mail

"Not long ago people were saying that I was done, but we showed today that isn't the case."

If Ronaldinho maintains that same passion this season, Atletico Mineiro will once again take some stopping.