Quarter-final race begins
© AFP

The games come thick and fast in South America this week with no let-up even for Labour Day. In fact, May 1 will be the first of three consecutive days action in the Copa Libertadores as some of the continent’s biggest sides contest their Round of 16, first-leg fixtures. As ever FIFA.com is on hand to preview the week’s programme.

Game of the week
Atletico Nacional (COL) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
Tuesday 1 May, 19.15 (local time) – Estadio Atanasio Girardot

The Colombian outfit, struggling at the wrong end of the table in their domestic league, would appear to be focusing all their efforts on the international front. That said, the sacking of coach Santiago Escobar yesterday has raised further questions about a team who, curiously, had the most potent attack in the group phase with 16 goals. Now under the stewardship of their sporting director Norberto Peluffo, Nacional face a Velez side managed by Ricardo Gareca, who has previously played and coached in Colombia. "We’re both attack-minded teams, which should make for a very close game," said the Argentinian coach, who ran out for America de Cali in the 80’s.

Elsewhere
Ecuadorian football, riding high in this edition with two sides in the last 16, will be represented by Emelec and Deportivo Quito. The former, who qualified in heroic fashion from Group 2, host a rock-solid Corinthians side with the tournament’s best defensive record. The Quito club, for their part, welcome Universidad de Chile, who will not be short of confidence after routing arch-rivals Colo Colo 5-0 in Chile’s clásico at the weekend.

Elsewhere, Cruz Azul, out of the running in the Mexican Clausura, will be flying the flag for their country when they take on Libertad of Paraguay, while Vasco da Gama, their pride wounded after a 3-1 reverse against Botafogo at the weekend, will be hoping to take advantage of Lanus’ irregular form on the road in this year’s competition. Nor should we forget perennial contenders Boca Juniors, who continue their title quest against Chile’s Union Espanola at their Bombonera fortress.

Player to watch
Matias Rodriguez (Universidad de Chile)
Since joining the Santiago outfit in 2010, the 26-year-old Argentinian seems to have found his niche. A right-back more than capable of operating in midfield, this former Boca Juniors and Nacional de Montevideo star is enjoying the best spell of his career, as demonstrated by his three goals in this edition of the Libertadores – not to mention a brace against Colo Colo last weekend. Deportivo Quito will certainly keeping a watchful eye on this potential match-winner on Thursday night.

Did you know?
It is eight years since Ecuador managed to get two of their three sides through to the last 16. The last time it happened was in 2004, when Liga Deportiva Universitaria and Barcelona were eliminated in the first knockout round by Santos and Once Caldas respectively.

What they said
“Libertad are a tough team, one of the most consistent performers in the Copa Sudamericana and Libertadores. They’re always in contention and won their section for a reason. At home they’re very strong, which is why we need to get a good lead in Mexico,” Cruz Azul striker Emilio Villa speaking ahead of Tuesday’s clash.

Copa Libertadores fixtures
Tuesday 1 May
Cruz Azul (MEX) - Libertad (PAR)
Atletico Nacional (COL) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)

Wednesday 2 May 
Boca Juniors (ARG) - Union Espanola (CHI)
Emelec (ECU) - Corinthians (BRA)
Vasco da Gama (BRA) - Lanus (ARG)

Thursday 3 May
Deportivo Quito (ECU) - Universidad de Chile (CHI)