Narrow 1-0 winners in their Copa Libertadores semi-final first legs on home soil, Santos and Penarol visit Cerro Porteno and Velez Sarsfield respectively knowing that a draw would be enough to take them through to the final.
Games of the week
Wednesday 1 June, 21.50 (local time), Estadio La Olla Azulgrana, Asuncion
Having set out their stall to win 26 May’s first leg at the Estadio Pacaembu without conceding a goal, Brazilian side Santos’ 1-0 triumph would appear to tick all the boxes. However, an incredible miss by O Peixe substitute Alan Patrick in the dying moments of the game muted the team’s celebrations somewhat, with Muricy Ramalho’s men well aware of the size of the task still facing them in Asuncion.
The two clubs are certainly familiar foes, with Wednesday’s return match their fourth meeting in this year’s Libertadores. Santos have enjoyed the upper hand thus far with two wins and one draw, including a 2-1 success on Paraguayan soil that proved vital to negotiating their way out of Group 5. O Peixe are now unbeaten in the Libertadores since 7 April - their only defeat in this period coming with a second-string side in the Brasileiro championship - and striking spearhead Neymar is in inspirational form. On a negative note, Brazilian international playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso is still out, while Leo also became a last-minute absentee.
Their Paraguayan opponents, who are looking to secure a first-ever appearance in the final of this competition, are at full strength but on a run of four games without a victory – including three domestic league reverses when fielding weakened sides. However, coach Leonardo Astrada’s charges will have the support of their fans as they attempt to turn the tie around, with all 26,000 available tickets already sold. “We want to go down in club history and to do that, only a win will do,” said goalkeeper Diego Barreto.
Thursday, 21.50 (local time), Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires
In another tie where the visitors have a one-goal lead to defend, Uruguay’s Penarol are out to continue a magnificent run that has featured knocking out reigning champs Internacional on their own patch in the Round of 16 before sinking Universidad Catolica in the last eight. Penarol’s first-leg success over Argentina’s Velez was yet another example of their Libertadores recipe, built as it was on a confident, gritty defensive display and a powerful aerial game that troubled opponents that have looked uncertain at set pieces. What's more, El Manya are also able to strike quickly and effectively on the counter-attack.
In a bid to take the sting out of Penarol’s tail, Velez attacker Santiago Silva has stated that his club, who remain at the top of the Argentinian Clausura despite resting first-choice players, need to keep faith in their patient, controlled approach. “We have an ingrained style of play which we always follow, even when we’re losing,” said the Uruguayan striker, known as El Tanque. “So, we need to stick to that style and keep our cool, in the knowledge that chances will come our way. We’ve got 90 minutes to do what we need to do.”
Player to watch
Juan Iturbe (Cerro Porteno)
One of the hottest prospects in Argentina’s youth national-team ranks, the youngster could provide a quick and creative attacking option in Cerro's duel with Santos and their own highly-rated teenage talent: Neymar. Indeed, Iturbe got the upper hand in the duo’s first clash this year at the South American U-20 Championship, when scoring the winner in La Albiceleste’s 2-1 win over Neymar’s Seleção in the final six-team group phase. The diminutive front-man is set to join Portuguese giants Porto this summer.
80 – This is the percentage of Libertadores finals played over the last 20 years to have featured at least one Brazilian club. Santos are aiming to kick off this decade by securing a final spot and underlining the impressive staying power of their country’s clubs.
What they said
“Everyone’s asking me if the key (to reaching the final) is scoring a goal, but it’s impossible to know yet. I’d rather just not concede. If I could choose, I’d take a 0-0 right now,” Penarol coach Diego Aguirre.