Boca Juniors and Velez Sarsfield have the slimmest of advantages to defend when they travel to Brazil for respective second legs against Fluminense and Santos in the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores. Meanwhile, the Corinthians-Vasco da Gama and Universidad de Chile-Libertad ties are all-square at the halfway stage, ensuring no shortage of tension when the semi-final line-up for Latin America’s biggest club competition is decided this week.
FIFA.com looks ahead to four matches that are too close to call as we preview the upcoming Libertadores action.
Game of the week
Corinthians (BRA) – Vasco da Gama (BRA)
Wednesday, 23 May, 21:50 (local time), Pacaembu, Sao Paulo
The tie between last year’s Brazilian league and cup winners was expected to be close, and that was exactly how things turned out in a goalless first leg, played out on a sodden pitch at the Sao Januario. A capacity crowd will await the outcome at the Pacaembu, where a score draw will take Os Cruzmaltinos through on the away goals rule.
Keeping one eye on a match that will prove a turning point in their respective seasons, both coaches fielded weakened line-ups as the 2012 Brazilian championship got under way at the weekend, and with contrasting results. While Vasco boosted their morale by making a winning start, O Timão slipped to defeat against Fluminense. Both sides will be at full strength for tomorrow’s much-awaited meeting, which should be played out in rather better conditions than last week’s first instalment, with only a minimal risk of storms hitting Sao Paulo.
After having Carlinhos sent off with 34 minutes on the clock at the Bombonera, Fluminense were entitled to feel relieved at departing Buenos Aires with only a 1-0 defeat and their hopes of reaching the semis still more or less intact. Though O Tricolor will be without key men Fred and Deco for Wednesday’s return at the Engenhao, they can count on the services of Wellington Nem, one of the stars of their season so far. For their part Boca will go into the game buoyed by last weekend’s derby win over Racing Club, which took them back to the top in the Argentinian Clausura.
Compatriots Velez Sarsfield also have a 1-0 lead to defend in Brazil, namely against Santos. Losers at home to Belgrano in the league on Sunday, Velez can expect a rough ride from Neymar and Co at the Vila Belmiro. Following a subdued performance in last week’s first leg, Brazilian football’s hottest prospect is expecting a big helping hand from the Peixe support: “We didn’t feel that much pressure there, and there’ll be more on them at the Vila, for sure. The fans really get on top of you and create pressure. And it’s where we’re used to playing as well.”
In the week’s other game, at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, Universidad de Chile will have the cards stacked in their favour after their 1-1 draw against Libertad in Asuncion. A goalless stalemate will take La U through, while the Paraguayans need to win or force a 2-2 draw to deny them.
Player to watch
Gino Peruzzi (Velez Sarsfield)
The 19-year-old defender said he was looking forward to his first-leg duel with Neymar, and did not disappoint either. Turning in a performance that belied his relative lack of experience, Peruzzi gave the Peixe star little space in which to manoeuvre and even found time to forage forward down the right flank, earning praise in the Brazilian press. Should he negate Neymar once more in the return, Velez’s chances of progressing will only increase.
Did you know?
The last time Boca Juniors lost a knockout tie in the Libertadores after taking a first-leg lead was 21 years ago, in the 1991 semi-finals. Their executioners on that occasion were Colo Colo, who hit back after a 1-0 defeat in Buenos Aires to win 3-2 on aggregate. Since then Los Xeneizes have won all 11 ties in which they have held an advantage from the first leg.
What they said
“We’ve put a few taboo subjects to bed since I came to Fluminense and I’m proud of this team. We could have won again at the Bombonera and we’re good enough to beat Boca at the Engenhao. It’s going to be a tight game but this team knows how to fight and excite people too. It’ll be no pushover for them, I can tell you. They’re going to have to battle all the way if they want to beat us again,” Fluminense coach Abel Braga.
Quarter-finals, 23 May
Fluminense (BRA) - Boca Juniors (ARG)
Corinthians (BRA) - Vasco (BRA)
Quarter-finals, 24 May
Santos (BRA) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
Universidad de Chile (CHI) - Libertad (PAR)