The quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores come to a conclusion this week with three previous winners of the competition, Santos, Velez Sarsfield and Penarol, well placed to reach the last four. FIFA.com sets the scene as the field in Latin America’s biggest and best club tournament is reduced from eight to four.
Game of the week
Thursday, 19 May, 22.30 (local time), Estadio General Pablo Rojas, Asuncion
The only tie involving two sides who have yet to win the Libertadores is level at 1-1 after last week’s first leg, with the Paraguayan hopefuls needing only a goalless draw to go through. Cerro’s effective, safety-first performance in Chiapas has whetted the appetite of their fans, who have snapped up tickets for the return game tomorrow - which is a public holiday in Asuncion - and will be expecting their heroes to adopt a more adventurous approach. In preparation for their big night, El Ciclón rested most of their first-teamers in the league last weekend, while Mexico’s sole survivors, who missed out on the domestic championship play-offs by a big margin, are devoting all their efforts to continental glory. After lacking a cutting edge up front in the first leg, Jaguares will be hoping the returning Jackson Martinez can fire them into the semis.
Santos were the only team to win on the road in the first legs, defeating Once Caldas 1-0. Yet despite that result and their subsequent conquest of the Sao Paulo state title, O Peixe are taking nothing for granted, mindful as they are of the Colombians' surprise success away to Cruzeiro in the previous round. Once also lost at home in the first leg on that occasion before producing a dominant display in Belo Horizonte, an unlikely turnaround they are aiming to repeat once more on Brazilian soil.
Beaten by Lanus at the weekend, Velez Sarsfield remain on top in the Argentinian league and are very warm favourites to progress on Wednesday, when they take a 3-0 advantage to Asuncion for their return leg against Libertad. Velez will do well to remember, however, that the Paraguayan outfit are a tough proposition on their home patch, having overturned a 3-1 deficit there against Fluminense in the last 16.
Penarol will hope to make their return to the last four for their first time in five attempts since 1988 tomorrow. To do that the Uruguayan giants will need to defend the 2-0 lead they built up in Montevideo against Chile’s Universidad Catolica.
Player to watch
Alejandro Martinuccio (Penarol)
A River Plate youth product, the 23-year-old striker is just one of many Argentinians who have shone in this year’s competition with foreign clubs. Arriving at the Montevideo outfit amid little fanfare in 2009, Martinuccio helped them break a seven-year league championship drought the following season and is now making a valuable contribution in the Libertadores. The scorer of a stunning goal in the last round against Internacional, the former Millonario was on hand with a late second in last week’s defeat of Catolica.
7 - The number of games Santos have gone unbeaten against Colombian opposition in the tournament. The last four of those matches were victories, a record that augurs well for their return fixture against Once Caldas. The last time O Peixe lost to a team from Colombia was in the quarter-finals in 2004, when Once beat them en route to the title.
What they said
“We’ve got the second leg on Thursday and, God willing, we can get the result we need to go through. Everyone wants to play, no matter what game it is, but it’s up to the boss to decide if I should play or not. Missing a couple of games is not going to kill me,” Paulo Garces, Universidad Catolica goalkeeper.
Quarter-final, second legs
Libertad (PAR) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
Santos (BRA) - Once Caldas (COL)
Universidad Catolica (CHI) – Penarol (URU)
Cerro Porteno (PAR) – Jaguares (MEX)