Going into the third week of group-phase action in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, the stakes are growing ever higher for those sides harbouring hopes of making the last 16 of the continental showpiece. Among the fast starters are Bolivia’s The Strongest, Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield and Mexico’s Cruz Azul, all of whom play at home and can make it two wins from two in their respective sections.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the fixtures ahead, on a week during which no Brazilian or Ecuadorian outfits are in action.
Game of the week
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) – Guadalajara (MEX)
Group 7 – Wednesday 22 February, 22.00 (local time) - Estadio Jose Amalfitani (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Velez have begun the 2012 campaign in fine style, thanks to a positive start domestically and an emphatic 3-0 opening win at Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting in Group 7. Barring the Argentinian club’s path to a fifth consecutive home victory in Libertadores action are the struggling Chivas, the team that knocked Los Velezanos out at the Round of 16 stage in 2010. The visitors, who are still winless after seven rounds of the new Mexican season, also need a big improvement on their showing in their 1-1 section-opener at home to Ecuador’s Deportivo Quito.
The Strongest kicked off their Group 1 bid by sinking none other than holders Santos, and the Bolivian outfit will be confident of more of the same when they welcome Peru’s Juan Aurich. Also playing at home are Cruz Azul, who host Venezuela’s Tachira in Group 6. Both teams would love to pick up all three points to continue their impressive starts to the section, with the Mexican side beating Paraguay’s Nacional, and Tachira claiming a worthy draw against Brazilian giants Corinthians.
Three more teams also have the possibility to make it six points from six this week, though Chile’s Union Espanola, Colombia’s Atletico Nacional and Argentina’s Godoy Cruz will all have to do so away from home when they visit Bolivia’s Bolivar, Uruguay’s Penarol and Universidad de Chile respectively.
Player to watch
Mariano Pavone (Lanus)
The Argentinian's 2011 season was soured by his involvement in River Plate’s shock relegation, though the switch to El Granate appears to have given the 29-year-old attacker a new lease of life. Currently the three-goal top scorer in the Apertura 2012, El Tanque also laid on a superb assist in Lanus’ 1-1 draw with Flamengo in Group 2 of the Libertadores. Will he get off the mark himself in the Copa against Olimpia in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion?
Did you know?
Runners-up in the 2011 edition, Montevideo heavyweights Penarol are on a four-game unbeaten home run in the Libertadores, thanks to two wins and two draws. Their last defeat on their own patch in the competition was back on 12 April last year, when they were beaten 1-0 in the group phase by Argentina’s Independiente – having already safely qualified for the knockout stages.
What they said
“We’ll be going out to win the game right from the off, and I can’t see them sitting back as they’re playing at home. I’m certain it’ll be a tough match but we’re going to beat them,” Junior de Barranquilla’s Giovanni Hernandez on his side’s visit to face Chile’s Universidad Catolica.
This week's fixtures
Tuesday 21 February
Bolivar (BOL) - Union Espanola (CHI)
Arsenal (ARG) - Zamora (VEN)
Cruz Azul (MEX) - Deportivo Tachira (VEN)
Penarol (URU) - Atletico Nacional (COL)
Wednesday 22 February
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) - Chivas (MEX)
Universidad de Chile (CHI) - Godoy Cruz (ARG)
Thursday 23 February
The Strongest (BOL) - Juan Aurich (PER)
Olimpia (PAR) - Lanus (ARG)
Universidad Catolica (CHI) - Junior (COL)