Time ticking for Libertadores hopefuls

The second half of the group phase of the 2011 Copa Libertadores begins this week, which means time is running for those sides languishing at the bottom of their sections. For others, however, there is the chance to all but clinch a place in the knockout rounds.

FIFA.com looks ahead to the eighth week of action in South America’s biggest club competition.

Game of the week
Colo Colo-Santos
Wednesday 16 March, 20.50 (local time), Estadio Monumental (Santiago, Chile)

Both sides have had just two outings to date in Group 5 and both have the opportunity to replace Cerro Porteno as leaders at the halfway stage. El Cacique have amassed four straight wins since Americo Gallego’s appointment as coach, and another success here will put them in control in the section. The Brazilians, who have drawn their two games in the group, have just welcomed Paulo Henrique Ganso back to the fold after his seven-month injury layoff. O Peixe will be hoping he can repeat his weekend return of a goal and an assist in a 2-0 defeat of Botafogo.

Junior de Barranquilla are the only team in this year’s competition who have yet to drop a point, a record they will put to the test at home to Bolivia’s Oriente Petrolero. The Colombians will earn safe passage from Group 2 if they win and second-placed Gremio see off Leon de Huanuco in Peru, a task that should not be beyond the Porto Alegre outfit despite the absence of front-man Andre Lima.

After crashing to a 5-1 loss at Libertad last week,  Universidad San Martin, the other Peruvian team still in the competition, have the chance to gain immediate revenge against the Paraguayans. If they do so, the men from Lima will retake the lead in Group 1, where Colombia’s Once Caldas entertain Mexico’s San Luis in a game that neither side can afford to lose.

Group 7 leaders Cruzeiro, who are unbeaten on seven points and have yet to concede a goal, can virtually make sure of their place in the next round if they see off third-placed Deportes Tolima at home. The two sides drew 0-0 in Colombia a fortnight ago, a result that has put the pressure firmly on Deportes, especially with Estudiantes winning away to Guarani last week. On Thursday El Pincha welcome the Paraguayans to their La Plata fortress, where they have not lost in 22 Copa Libertadores matches, a run stretching back to 1984.

Reigning champions Internacional visit Jorge Wilsterman of Bolivia with one eye on Mexico’s Jaguares, who lead the way in Group 6 and travel to Ecuador to take on Emelec. The second-placed Brazilians have a game in hand on the side above them and will be confident of collecting three points against the Bolivians, who are still empty-handed after their first two matches. As for Jaguares they will need to be on their guard against a dangerous Emelec side who have earned all four of their points at home.

Out front in Group 3 with seven points, Argentinos Juniors have designs on reaching the next round ahead of schedule, an objective they can take another step towards if they dispose of bottom club Nacional at home. The Uruguayans have drawn one and lost two, and another setback will almost certainly prove terminal.

Montevideo rivals Penarol have a far brighter outlook in Group 8, where they lie second on goal difference to Godoy Cruz. Los Aurinegros face a tough assignment this week, however, travelling to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito to take on a Liga Deportiva Universitaria side unaccustomed to dropping points at home.

Player to watch
Fabio (Cruzeiro)
A Raposa’s
first-choice custodian is continuing to impress at the age of 30. Voted the best goalkeeper of the 2010 Brazilian Championship and a key member of the side that reached the 2009 Libertadores final, Fabio is the only keeper yet to concede a goal in this year’s competition, a record he will hope to preserve against Deportes Tolima.

The stat
34 -
The number of years since Oriente Petrolero last beat Colombian opposition in the Libertadores, that distant success coming on 8 May 1977, when they overcame Deportivo Cali 1-0 at home in the group phase.

What they said
“We’ve gone nine games without defeat, which isn’t exactly spectacular but isn’t bad at all for a team like ours that is still developing. I didn’t think I’d be saying this a few weeks ago, but we’ve got an important challenge in front of us right now,” Argentinos Juniors coach Pedro Troglio looks ahead to his side’s meeting with Nacional.

Tuesday 15
Leon de Huanuco (PER) - Gremio (BRA)
Argentinos Juniors (ARG) - Nacional (URU)
Universidad San Martín (PER) - Libertad (PAR)
Once Caldas (MEX) - San Luis (MEX)

Wednesday 16
Jorge Wilsterman (BOL) - Internacional (BRA)
Cruzeiro (BRA) - Deportes Tolima (COL)
Emelec (BRA) - Jaguares (MEX)
Colo Colo (CHI) - Santos FC (BRA)

Thursday 17
Estudiantes LP (ARG) - Guaranía (PAR)
Liga de Quito (ECU) - Penarol (URU)
Junior (COL) - Oriente Petrolero (BOL)