By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) - South American's Copa Libertadores, the region's equivalent of the Champions League, will be played over 10 months instead of six and will end with a one-leg final from next year, the continent's soccer confederation CONMEBOL said on Tuesday.
CONMEBOL also announced that 10 of the teams knocked out in the group stage will then go into the second-string Copa Sudamericana, just as some teams knocked out in the Champions League group stage go into the Europa League.
"The move will allow us to improve the sporting performance in national tournaments, protect players and at the same time unlock the potential of the continental cups," CONMEBOL said in a statement.
Currently, the Libertadores is held from February to July and ends with a two-leg final while the Sudamericana runs from August to December. It will continue to start in February but now finish in November while the Sudamericana will start in June and end in December, CONMEBOL said. .
"Analyzing the statistics from Libertadores finals, the team playing at home in the second leg wins seven times out of 10," said CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez. "Sporting justice demands a one-leg final on a neutral pitch."
The Libertadores, which started in 1960, has always been seen as a poor relation to its European equivalents.
For many years, it was marred by allegations of skullduggery and some shocking violence but, although is still subject to riots and brawls, CONMEBOL has largely managed to clean it up in recent years.
However, it now suffers from the poor financial health of South American club soccer with nearly all the continent's top players plying their trade in Europe or Asia.
Nevertheless, many fans say that the colorful, hostile crowds and factors such as heat or altitude, plus its sheer unpredictability, give it a raw edge that the Champions League lacks.
CONMEBOL officials did not respond to requests for further clarification on exactly how the new system would work but said they would meet next week with representatives from the 10 member countries.
Under the current rules, teams from some nations can qualify for both the Libertadores and the Sudamericana, creating heavy fixture congestion.
From next year The champions of each tournament will automatically go into the following year's Libertadores.
(Writing by Andrew Downie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)