The pressure was on for five of Latin America’s biggest names this week as they faced important tests of their 2011 Copa Libertadores credentials. Fluminense, Universidad Catolica and Velez Sarsfield proved up to the job and recorded valuable victories, while Independiente and Once Caldas both drew to leave their qualification hopes in the balance.
FIFA.com looks back at another hectic three days of Libertadores action.
Game of the week
Fluminense 3-2 America
Goals: Gum 20, Araujo 79, Deco 86 (Fluminense); Vicente Sanchez 14, 71 (America)
On the brink of elimination in Group 3, Fluminense engineered a late comeback at the Estadio Engenhao to remain in the race for place in the last 16. Trailing 2-1 after America’s Uruguayan front man Vicente Sanchez had twice capitalised on their defensive failings, the hosts equalised through Araujo’s header with 11 minutes remaining.
That set the stage for former Porto and Barcelona star Deco to put his injury woes behind him. Having come on as a second-half substitute, the Portugal international reacted first to a bouncing ball in the America box and sent a gentle lob over the head of goalkeeper Armando Navarrete. The win moved O Fluzão up to third in the group, just two points behind leaders Argentinos Juniors with two games still to play.
“I feel alive again,” said a relieved Deco afterwards. “I’d been out with injury for two months and I wasn’t getting any pleasure out of football anymore. I was even thinking about giving it all up. This was an important result, though, and we’ve got the chance to make a fresh start now.”
The battle for second place in Group 1 will be decided on the final matchday after San Luis downed Universidad San Martin 3-1 to thwart their bid to reach the next round a game early. The Peruvians, who remain second, entertain bottom club Once Caldas in three weeks time in a match the Colombians have to win after conceding a late equaliser in a gripping 2-2 draw at unbeaten Libertad, who have already gone through.
Oriente Petrolero’s 2-0 defeat of Leon de Huanuco came too late to resurrect their Group 2 campaign but did a power of good to Gremio’s hopes of reaching the last 16. The Brazilians, who were not in action this week, now need just a point from their home game with the already-qualified Junior de Barranquilla on 7 April to join the Colombians in the knockout phase.
Fresh from beating Universidad Catolica in Santiago a fortnight earlier, Caracas went into the return fixture in the Venezuelan capital with designs on taking top spot in Group 4. The Chileans had other ideas, however, strolling to a 2-0 win to move first themselves and demote Los Rojos de Ávila to third place. With two home games to come Universidad are now in pole position, with Velez Sarsfield jumping up from last to second thanks to a 2-1 defeat of Union Espanola on Thursday, their goals coming from Emiliano Papa and Santiago Silva.
Finally, in the week’s all-Argentinian tie, Godoy Cruz and Independiente played out a 1-1 draw in Mendoza, which left the home side on top in Group 8 with seven points. El Rojo, who have won the competition more times than anyone else, remain bottom of the section and need wins over Liga Universitaria Deportiva de Quito and Penarol in their final two games to be sure of progressing.
Player of the week
Nicolas Pavlovich (Libertad)
Once Caldas, champions in 2004, were poised to claim a vital win in the Paraguayan capital and join the fight for the second qualification slot in Group 1 when Libertad’s Nicolas Pavlovich popped up in the fourth minute of stoppage time to deny them. The Argentinian forward’s dramatic late header from Rodolfo Gamarra’s cross was his second of the night, his brace cancelling out Wason Renteria’s double for the Colombians and leaving them bottom of the group with just one round of games remaining.
4 - The number of goals Universidad Catolica’s Argentinian striker Lucas Pratto has now scored away from home in this year’s Libertadores. The Chileans are unbeaten on the road so far, having collected two wins and a draw on their travels, a haul that has taken them to the top of Group 4.
What they said
“I can’t say I’m delighted with the result. Either side could have won this game and we both had our chances in what was an exciting match. The fact is, though, we’re now in control of our own destiny and if we win our last two games, we’ll go through. I’m confident we can do that.”
Independiente coach Antonio Mohamed takes the optimistic view after El Rojo’s 1-1 draw at Godoy Cruz, a result that leaves them rooted to the bottom of a tight Group 8.