Former kings seek first wins

It is a busy week of action in the Copa Libertadores, with fixtures in six of the competition’s eight groups. takes a look at the pick of the encounters ahead, including 2009 champions Estudiantes's attempt to bounce back from a crushing opening defeat and holders Internacional’s bid for their first three points.

Game of the week
Group 8, Thursday 24 February, Estadio Libertadores de America (Avellaneda), 19.15 (local time)

This week’s only match between sides yet to begin their group-stage campaigns is a meeting with an enviable Libertadores pedigree. Argentina’s Independiente are seven-time winners, a competition record, while their Uruguayan opponents have lifted the coveted trophy on five occasions. The duo have been involved in a remarkable 16 finals between them, but the last time either reached the title decider was in 1987 when Penarol triumphed over America de Cali. Both harbour ambitions for this year's competition. Independiente are buoyed by victory in the Copa Sudamericana 2010 and Los Manyas by success in last year’s Uruguayan Clausura.

Having begun their Group 1 bid in fine style with a 3-0 away win over Colombia’s Once Caldas, next up for Peruvian side San Martin is the visit of Mexico’s San Luis. The latter need a response after losing their opener 2-1 at home to Paraguayan champions Libertad and following that up with a domestic defeat by Pumas. Libertad, for their part, travel to 2004 champions Once Caldas, who will be eager to bounce back from last week's home loss.

Another side to open their group campaign with a 3-0 win were Gremio, victors over Bolivia’s Oriente Petrolero. Currently alternating continental action with Campeonato Gaucho commitments, where they have reached the first-phase semi-finals, Gremio visit Colombia’s Junior de Barranquilla on Thursday. Beaten by the latter in their Group 2 opener, Peru’s Leon de Huanuco host Oriente Petrolero tomorrow.

Over in Group 3, Brazilian champions Fluminense are at home once more, this time against Uruguay’s Nacional, having been held 2-2 in their opener by Argentinos Juniors. Without main man Fred, who is out with a calf injury, Flu’s goalscoring burden will rest squarely on the shoulders of Rafael Moura. Argentinos, meanwhile, host Club America, who are in confident mood after their 2-0 success against Nacional.

Libertadores holders Internacional, held 1-1 away to Bolivia’s Emelec in their first game in Group 6, will be without influential playmaker Andres D’Alessandro at home to Mexican outfit Jaguares. Jorge Wilstermann, beaten 2-0 away by Jaguares in their opener, are at Emelec.

Brazil’s Cruzeiro, whose 5-0 home thrashing of Estudiantes was last week’s most emphatic Libertadores result, welcome Paraguay’s Guarani to the Arena do Jacare on Tuesday. Estudiantes, for their part, will be looking to get their Group 7 bid back on track when they host Colombian dark horses Deportes Tolima, who opened with a 1-0 win over Guarani, having knocked out Brazilian heavyweights Corinthians in the preliminary round.

Player to watch
Enzo Perez (Estudiantes)
One of El Pincha’s star men and part of the squad which won the Libertadores two years ago, midfielder Perez has been earning rave reviews in the Argentinian press and has his sights on breaking into the senior national team set-up. After the painfully heavy defeat by Cruzeiro, Estudiantes will need all of Perez’s skill and dynamism to revive their hopes of going far in this year’s competition.

The stat
– Scorers of 14 goals in just five competitive games this calendar year, Cruzeiro are clearly a force to be reckoned with. Even more so when you consider A Raposa appeared in each of the previous three editions of the Libertadores, reaching the final in 2009, and have hit 72 goals in their last 36 games in the competition.

What they said
“When I take to the field at Independiente’s ground, I won’t be able to stop myself remembering the wonderful things I experienced there as a player. But what’s most important is the game itself, which will be spectacular, because kicking off our campaign against Independiente in Avellaneda is really special. It’ll be a meeting of two great clubs,” Penarol coach and former player Diego Aguirre, who scored in the club’s 4-2 win at Independiente in 1987, which ended El Diablo Rojo’s 27-year unbeaten home record in the Libertadores.

Midweek fixtures
Universidad San Martin-San Luis 
Emelec-Jorge Wilstermann 
Once Caldas-Libertad

Leon de Huanuco-Oriente Petrolero 
Estudiantes-Deportes Tolima 

Argentinos Juniors-America
Junior de Barranquilla-Gremio