There has been little in the way of breathing space in the Copa Libertadores 2010, with a matter of days separating the conclusion of the group stage and the start of the knockout phase. Going into the tenth week of action in this year’s competition, the Round of 16 features seven intriguing encounters and a clássico between Brazil’s two most popular clubs, who are said to enjoy the support of at least 60 million fans between them. FIFA.com brings you an overview of the action ahead.
Game of the week
Wednesday 28 April, Estadio Maracana, 21.50 (local time)
Meetings pitting Brazil’s two best-supported teams against each other customarily send sparks flying, but this encounter is expected to bring the whole country grinding to a halt. Dubbed 'the game of the year' by Corinthians president Andres Sanchez, the match also features intriguing sub-plots such as Fla’s recent travails and the duel between former Seleção strike partners Adriano and Ronaldo.
Casting an even greater cloud of uncertainty over the match is the fact that Os Rubro-Negros will go into the match without a permanent coach, Andrade having been sacked on Friday and replaced, on an interim basis, by Rogerio Lourenco. The task of the temporary man in charge will be to revive morale in a squad beaten by Botafogo in the Taca Rio final and which barely scraped through to this stage of the tournament. Corinthians, though they too missed out on their state title, finished the group phase with the best record of any team in this year’s Libertadores and a burning determination to clinch the continental crown in their centenary year.
Team-mates during Brazil’s disappointing campaign at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, Adriano and Ronaldo have never before been on opposing sides either during their lengthy spells in European football or in last year’s Brazilian national championship. As far as the record books are concerned, Fla have the edge in terms of Libertadores meetings, having drawn at home and beaten O Timão 2-0 away in the first round of the 1991 competition.
The Round of 16 gets underway today with two matches between Mexican and Argentinian outfits. In the first of these, on-form Libertadores holders Estudiantes are expected to field an under-strength team against San Luis. Indeed, with one eye on their push for domestic glory, coach Alejandro Sabella may rest the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, Mauro Boselli and Rodrigo Brana for the first leg of their meeting with opponents who come off the back of a disappointing Bicentenario campaign.
Conversely, in the duel between Guadalajara and Velez Sarsfield, it is the Mexican side who will be weakened, having lost a number of first-choice players to international duty. However, Las Chivas finished second overall in the regular-season standings in the Mexican Bicentenario and are always difficult opponents in the Libertadores. Velez, for their part, will be looking to underline their status as title contenders after impressive displays throughout the group phase.
On Wednesday, Sao Paulo travel to Lima to take on Universitario and will be buoyed by their performance in their 1-0 win over Once Caldas at the Morumbi in their final Group 2 encounter. Coach Ricardo Gomes is therefore expected to stick with the same starting line-up, with veteran forward Washington kept on the bench. The home side, meanwhile, have not won at home in continental competition since beating Lanus 2-0 on 17 February. They followed up that victory with four consecutive draws, including the goalless stalemate with Lanus in Argentina that grabbed a place in the last 16.
Also on Wednesday, Brazil’s Internacional travel to Argentina to take on Banfield. Inter received a boost with the return of left-back Kleber, but coach Jorge Fossati’s charges must improve on their sub-par showing against arch-rivals Gremio in the first leg of the Campeonato Gaucho final. Unlike Fossati’s side, Argentinian Apertura 2009 winners Banfield fielded a second-string team in domestic action with a view to this encounter.
Brazilian outfit Cruzeiro join the fray on Thursday when they welcome Uruguay’s Nacional to the Mineirao. And after their early exit from Mineiro state title contention, Adilson Batista’s charges have been able to focus all their energies on the Libertadores. The return of forward Kleber, the competition’s seven-goal leading marksman, is another plus. However, their Uruguayan opponents, who hit the landmark of 507 points in Libertadores history during the group phase, do still need to divide their energies on two fronts.
Finally, we have the games between Alianza Lima and Universidad de Chile, with the latter in good recent form despite losing this weekend’s clásico against Colo-Colo, and that of 2004 champions Once Caldas against Paraguay’s Libertad. Along with Cruzeiro, the latter are the only team involved in the preliminary round still in the competition.
Player to watch
Rogerio Ceni (Sao Paulo)
A genuine icon at O Tricolor Paulista, Thursday’s match in Peru will be the goalkeeper’s 900th appearance for a club he has represented since 1993. A member of the Sao Paulo side that won the Libertadores 2005, the free-kick specialist has also hit no fewer than 89 career goals. One against Universitario would give him a strike rate of one every ten games.
50 - The percentage of clubs in the Round of 16 that have never previously won Latin America’s leading club competition. Of these sides, Corinthians look to present the strongest case for clinching a first crown, though followers of Universidad de Chile, Banfield, Alianza Lima, Universitario, Guadalajara, San Luis and Libertad may disagree.
What they said
“They’re very strong going forward but Cruzeiro do have weaknesses we can turn to our advantage. In defence they’ve got good individual players but I don’t think they work well as a unit,” Nacional coach Eduardo Acevedo.
This week's fixtures
San Luis (MEX) - Estudiantes (ARG)
Chivas (MEX) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
Flamengo (BRA) - Corinthians (BRA)
Universitario (PER) - Sao Paulo (BRA)
Banfield (ARG) - Internacional (BRA)
Once Caldas (COL) - Libertad (PAR)
Cruzeiro (BRA) - Nacional (URU)
Alianza Lima (PER) - Universidad de Chile (CHI)