Flu braced for Boca challenge

All the experts are agreed. The 2-2 draw between Boca Juniors and Fluminense in last Wednesday's first leg was among the most exciting encounters the Copa Libertadores 2008 has thrown up so far, a fluctuating contest that lived up to the high expectations usually generated by ties between Argentinian and Brazilian sides.

If anything, Wednesday's return leg at the Maracana should be even more spectacular. After all, the prize at stake for both sides could not be greater - a place in the grand final against LDU, who ended America's challenge in the other semi-final on Tuesday.

The stakes
Fluminense-Boca Juniors, Estadio Maracana, Wednesday 4 June, 21.50 (local time)

Against most sides, a 2-2 draw on the road would usually be considered a solid platform for finishing off the job at home. But, as they have proved throughout this year's competition, Boca Juniors are no ordinary visitors. The defending champions pulled off mightily impressive away wins at both Cruzeiro and Atlas in earlier rounds, and are eyeing up a Maracana special to check into their ninth final and their sixth of the decade so far.

But even with Hugo Ibarra restored to their defence, things will not be easy for the Argentinians. Facing them are a Fluminense side with the best home record in this year's Libertadores: five wins out of five, 13 goals for and only one against. That imposing record and the incentive of a debut final in their 106th year of existence will make O Tricolor Carioca extremely dangerous opponents.

Adding even more spice to the occasion is the array of attacking talents lining up on both sides. The highly influential duo of Juan Roman Riquelme and Thiago Neves are set to reprise their enthralling duel of seven days ago, and the showdown between veteran gunslingers Martin Palermo and Washington could prove equally decisive.

The key
Carlos Ischia's battle-hardened troops have been involved in more Libertadores semi-final contests than any other side on the continent, and they are sure to pounce should O Fluzão reveal any weaknesses. And just as in the first leg, the goalkeepers are certain to have a vital bearing on proceedings. Fluminense custodian Fernando Henrique turned in a solid performance last week and came to his team's rescue on more than one occasion, while Pablo Migliore, standing in for the injured Mauricio Caranta, was at fault for the Brazilians' second equaliser. With the stakes so high, their powers of concentration will be given the sternest of examinations.

What they said
"Before the game in Argentina all we heard and read about was how Boca were the big favourites and that they were going to thrash us. But the situation is different now because we showed in Buenos Aires that we deserve some respect. They are a dangerous side away from home and we'll certainly need to be on guard for the whole 90 minutes. But we're more than ready to get out there and play," Fluminense captain Luiz Alberto.

"There's nothing different about playing at the Maracana. In actual fact it'll suit us because we'll have more space to play in. As the away team we know what we need to - go on the offensive and score the first goal. If we can do that, their heads will go down and we'll be able to play our game," Boca Juniors defender Gabriel Paletta.

Previous Copa Libertadores meetings
2008 semi-final, first leg
28 May: Boca Juniors 2-2 Fluminense