There was plenty of home comfort last week in the preliminary round of the Copa Libertadores 2012, with all six teams playing on their own patch securing first-leg victories. Yet of this sextet, only 2011 runners-up Penarol and Arsenal recorded emphatic victories, with the other four ties all finely balanced with one-goal margins separating the sides.
Game of the week
Wednesday 1 February, 19.00 (local time), Estadio Palogrande (Manizales, Colombia)
The first instalment of this meeting of two recent Libertadores champions at Internacional’s Estadio Beira-Rio was a keenly contested affair. Though Inter’s high-tempo approach ensured they dominated proceedings before the break, they went off the boil after the interval and were left hanging on to the 1-0 lead secured through Leandro Damiao’s early goal.
"It was only our second game this season, so that’s normal,” said Colorado coach Dorival Junior. “Above all else, we have to be fully aware that this next match is the biggest of the year for us. We’re going to lay our bodies on the line.”
A particularly welcome piece of news for Internacional is the confirmation that Argentinian schemer Andres D'Alessandro will now stay at the club, after he had entered into negotiations for a switch to Chinese football. Less positive is the fact that gifted attacker Dagoberto is a doubt for tomorrow's second leg.
Over in the Colombian camp, confidence levels remain high despite the first-leg defeat, while playing at an altitude of 2,200m is undoubtedly another factor in their favour. “We’re trying to iron out a few errors [from the first leg] to get us back into the tie,” said coach Neco Martinez. “We know it’s no easy task but it’s not impossible either, particularly as we’ve got a few players back from injury. First and foremost, we need to score goals, and then we can knock the ball about and keep possession.”
Leading 3-0 from the first leg, Arsenal of Argentina visit Peru’s Sport Huancayo odds-on to secure their berth in the next round. Expected to step in for suspended new signing Carlos Carbonero is Diego Torres, with in-form Jorge Cordoba replacing the departed Mauro Obolo, the former fans’ favourite having signed for Velez Sarsfield. Their opponents Sport Huancayo, meanwhile, who were only founded as recently as 2007, have enforced their right to train behind closed doors as they work on a way to pull off what would be a remarkable comeback.
Even more comfortably poised than Arsenal are Uruguay’s Penarol, who thrashed Caracas of Venezuela 4-0 in the first leg in Montevideo. Los Aurinegros are not taking safe passage for granted just yet, however, particularly as the first leg could have taken a very different turn had veteran keeper Fabian Carini not saved Edgar Jimenez’s 25th-minute penalty with the score still 0-0.
In a first leg in Quito masked by thick fog, a 1-0 win for Ecuador’s El Nacional over Libertad of Paraguay means the tie remains intriguingly open for the return in Asuncion. And on the evidence of the defensive uncertainty in last week’s clash, including the error that led to Juan Luis Anangono’s decisive strike, both sides will be acutely aware of how costly further mistakes could be.
Over in Rio de Janeiro, Flamengo are preparing to welcome Bolivian outfit Real Potosi, who sank Ronaldinho and Co 2-1 in a first leg played at over 4,000m above sea level. Needing to score at least once but without taking unnecessary risks at the back, will Fla rue not yet being able to call on the services of prolific new signing Vagner Love?
Finally on Mexican soil, Tigres will be looking to overturn their 1-0 first-leg defeat by Union Espanola, and can take heart from a 2-1 victory over Estudiantes Tecos in the fourth matchday of the Clausura 2012. Nevertheless, their Chilean opponents are arguably in even more buoyant mood, having followed last week’s Libertadores win by beating rivals Audax Italiano in the first round of the Apertura 2012.
Player to watch
Hector Mancilla (Tigres)
One of the most successful Chilean exports of recent years, the lethal striker was left out of Tigres’ first-leg defeat in his homeland but is expected to reclaim his spot in attack for the return. Determined to catch the eye of La Roja coach Claudio Borghi, a big performance against a Chilean outfit in the Libertadores would certainly boost Mancilla’s cause.
13 - The number of goals scored in the first legs of this year’s Libertadores preliminary round, producing an average of over two a game. Will the 12 teams top this tally in the second legs, or will the tension surrounding these decisive encounters mean chances are at a premium?
What they said
Nicolas Freitas, Penarol midfielder: “Of course we’re happy with the result and the display the team put on. But we travel to Venezuela knowing we’ve got another vital game in front of us. When you win 4-0 it can mask a host of issues, but we know we need to keep working hard and improve if we are to go as far as possible in this year’s Copa.”