Eight games in two days, seven qualification slots still up for grabs, and 13 of the 16 teams in action harbouring hopes of a place in the next round: the final week of the group phase in the 2011 Copa Libertadores promises to be a very special one. FIFA.com marks your card ahead of a decisive couple of days in Latin America’s leading club competition.
Game of the week
Estadio Diego Armando Maradona (Buenos Aires), Wednesday 20 April, 21.50 (local time),
Picking out one match above the rest is no easy task in a week such as this. The two matches in Group 3, where all four sides still have a shot at going through, could both have taken top billing, though this meeting in the Argentinian capital has an extra-special ingredient: the age-old rivalry between Brazilian and Argentinian teams. The 2010 Clausura champions are in the stronger position, lying as they are in second place with seven points to their name, knowing that a win will definitely take them through. Bottom with five points, O Fluzão have to win and then hope that America prevail away to Nacional of Uruguay in order to progress.
A Flu hero against America two matchdays ago, Deco is out with a muscle strain, though Fred scored again in his side’s weekend win in the Carioca state championship, which should give Enderson Moreira’s side plenty of heart. No doubt distracted by Fluminense’s visit, Argentinos promptly lost their long unbeaten record in the league to Godoy Cruz. “We have a crucial game coming up and we have to win no matter what,” said their coach, Pedro Troglio.
The respective fates of Argentinos Juniors and Fluminense also hinge to varying degrees on what happens across the River Plate between Nacional and America. Leading Group 3 with nine points, the Mexicans need only a draw to reach the next round, though they will also advance if they lose and the game in Buenos Aires ends in a draw. A draw may be enough for the Uruguayans, although a win will take them past Las Águilas and into the next round.
Group 5 also comes to a conclusion on Wednesday evening, with three teams in the frame for the two slots and first place in the section. Third-placed Santos were heading out of the competition not so long ago but will reach the knockout phase if they beat Deportivo Tachira, who are already out, at the Vila Belmiro. To help them in their task, O Peixe can call on Neymar and Elano, who were both suspended for last week’s win in Paraguay. Section leaders Colo Colo are at home to Cerro Porteno, who are now struggling following that damaging reverse at the hands of the Brazilians.
The identity of the other side to advance with pool winners Libertad from Group 1 will be decided on Tuesday, with all three teams in with a shout. Lying second with six points, San Martin are best placed and need just a point at home to bottom club Once Caldas, the 2004 champions, who are two points behind and have no option but to win. Sandwiched in between are San Luis, who have to prevail at Libertad and hope the Colombians do them a favour in Peru.
Reigning champions Internacional missed an opportunity to go through from Group 6 two weeks ago but will have another bite at the cherry when they entertain Emelec at the Estadio Beira-Rio. The Ecuadorians are two points behind the Brazilians in third and will progress if they win, while second-placed Jaguares will fancy their chances of getting the three points they need when they visit also-rans Jorge Wilstermann of Bolivia.
Player to watch
Diego Rubio (Colo Colo)
As if having the in-form Esteban Paredes and Ezequiel Miralles were not enough, the Colo Colo front line can also count of the considerable talents of this exciting 17-year-old, who is the son of former player Hugo Rubio. The scorer of both his side’s goals in last week’s defeat of Deportivo Tachira, Rubio is one of Chilean football’s brightest prospects and has scored five goals in his last four outings.
16 - The number of years since former midfield legend Paulo Roberto Falcao was last in coaching. The new Internacional boss maintained strong links with the game in that time, working as a TV commentator and newspaper columnist in his native Brazil, but now returns to the club where he starred in the 1970s and where he also enjoyed a brief spell in the hotseat in 1993.
What they said
“It's about confidence and determination. It was a decisive game against Cerro Porteno and it will be once more against Deportivo Tachira. We’ve got another vital game coming up (in the Paulista championship) on Sunday too. Mediocre coaches stay out of the firing line, but I chose Santos because I want to win,” Santos coach, Muricy Ramalho.