After a break for the region’s latest qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the Copa Libertadores returns this week with the opening legs of the semi-finals. As you would imagine, there is no shortage of expectation surrounding two fixtures that have pitted a pair of multiple champions against opponents aspiring to win their first Libertadores crown. Santos and Boca Juniors, with no fewer than nine titles between them, take on Corinthians and Universidad de Chile respectively, and FIFA.com is here to set the scene.
Santos (BRA) - Corinthians (BRA)
Wednesday 13 June, 21:50 (local time) – Estadio Urbano Caldeira
This mouth-watering semi-final pits reigning Libertadores champions Santos against the current Brasileiro holders. The meeting of O Peixe and O Timão will be the latest instalment of one of Sao Paulo state’s classic derbies, whose origins go back to the golden era of Pele and Co when Corinthians went an incredible 11 years without beating their cross-town rivals.
Santos, led by the jogo bonito of Neymar, will be hoping to prevail at home against a team that has made pragmatism their calling card, setting up a clash of styles comparable with some of the tournament’s finest showdowns.
Boca Juniors (ARG) - Universidad de Chile (CHI)
Thursday 14 June, 20:15 (local time) - Estadio Bombonera
Meanwhile, at the Bombonera, Julio Falcioni’s side will be going all out for victory as they close in on what would be a single-season treble of Libertadores, Torneo Clausura and Copa Argentina. With Juan Roman Riquelme calling the shots, Los Xeneizes will be hoping to dictate play against Universidad de Chile, winners of the 2011 Copa Sudamericana and perhaps South America’s hottest side these last 12 months.
It is worth noting, however, that Jorge Sampaoli’s charges, who face Colo Colo in the semi-finals of the Chilean Apertura this weekend, have won just one of their five games on the road in this year’s Libertadores. Boca, for their part, have won their last four Libertadores fixtures in Buenos Aires.
Player to watch
Back from international duty with Brazil’s Olympic squad last week and almost certainly without team-mate Ganso in the starting XI, strike sensation Neymar will be tasked with leading his side against compatriots Corinthians. O Peixe’s top-scorer in this year’s competition with seven goals, the front-man can look forward to a special duel with Paulinho who, despite playing central midfield, has netted three times this campaign, including the goal that earned O Timão their first Libertadores semi-final appearance in 12 years.
Did you know?
Despite having never won the Copa Libertadores, Corinthians boast a FIFA Club World Cup title among their honours. That triumph in the inaugural edition in Brazil in 2000, a tournament that featured Real Madrid and Manchester United among others, came courtesy of a penalty shoot-out defeat of Vasco da Gama in the final.
What they said
“Universidad de Chile are a side that know what they want and what’s at stake. It will be down to us whether they attack or not. They’re the best team in Chile but we’re the best in Argentina,” Boca Juniors playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme in the build-up to the big game.