The first legs of this year’s Copa Libertadores semi-finals went the way of Corinthians and Boca Juniors, with the reigning Brazilian champions defeating defending continental kings Santos 1-0 to take a giant step towards a first appearance in the final. The Argentinian heavyweights, for their part, will be even more confident of a place in what would be a tenth Libertadores final, given they opened up a 2-0 lead over Universidad de Chile.
O Peixe and La U therefore both face uphill tasks, but there is no doubt the two sides do have the firepower to turn things around. FIFA.com takes a look at the action ahead.
With another efficient display, Corinthians paid little heed to Santos’s greater continental pedigree and showed that, despite a 12-year-absence from this stage of the Libertadores, they appear mature enough to seize a spot in the decider. Set up solidly out on the pitch, O Timão dominated in their opponents' own Vila Belmiro home and took the lead thanks to a stunning effort from Emerson. Their defenders also barely put a foot wrong, ceding very few chances to Neymar and Co and amassing a ninth clean sheet in this year’s competition. Ahead of the second leg, coach Tite will have two major issues on his mind. Firstly, can Willian successfully step in for suspended first-leg hero Emerson? The second concerns defender Chicao, who is an injury doubt after twisting his ankle.
Over in the Santos camp, their hopes rest on Neymar rediscovering his inspirational best, while fellow star man Ganso – who only made his comeback after surgery in last week’s first leg – will be keen to make more of an impact in the return. However, having already overcome a first-leg deficit in their quarter-final tie against Velez Sarsfield, Santos are confident of doing so again. “We were hurt by this defeat and we know we’ve got what it takes to turn the tie around,” said midfielder Arouca. “Why shouldn’t we go there and win?”
Buoyed by a crowd containing such famous faces as Diego Maradona, Carlos Tevez and Martin Palermo, Boca Juniors put the squeeze on Universidad de Chile for the first 15 minutes of each half in the Bombonera and grabbed two goals via Santiago Silva and Juan Sanchez Mino. However, Julio Falcioni’s charges could also have one eye on a decisive round in the domestic Clausura 2012 and the final of the Copa Argentina. Concentration will therefore be key if they wish to equal Penarol’s record number of Libertadores final appearances, and subsequently match compatriots Independiente’s record haul of seven titles. Ahead of the second leg, Juan Insaurralde and Clemente Rodriguez are both doubts, with the latter having already missed the first game.
Their lacklustre loss in Argentina was well below the standards La U have set in recent years, much to the disappointment of coach Jorge Sampaoli. “I wasn’t expecting that, I at least thought we’d create more chances,” he said at the time. Nevertheless, the squad continue to believe and need only look back to the Round of 16, when they beat Deportivo Quito 6-0 after a 4-1 first-leg reverse.
Player to watch
The club’s signing of the imposing 1.95m goalkeeper, who spent 2007 to 2011 in Dutch football, did not cause too much of a stir in Brazil, but he has already won over O Timão’s faithful thanks to his speed off his line and vital saves. Indeed, the team have not conceded a goal in the Libertadores 2012 since he was made first-choice between the sticks at the start of the knockout phase. He is thus on a run of five games – 450 minutes – without conceding in the tournament and should he extend that sequence to 540 minutes, Corinthians will definitely be in the final.
Did you know?
Fully focused on chasing a place in the final, all four Copa semi-finalists lost in domestic action at the weekend. Though deploying most of their first-choice side, Boca were beaten 3-0 at home by title rivals Arsenal in a severe blow to their own championship hopes. Universidad went through something similar, when going down 2-0 to Colo Colo in the semi-finals of the Chilean Apertura. Turning to the Brasileirao, Corinthians and Santos both sent out second-string sides that went down to Ponte Preta and Flamengo respectively.
What they said
Marcelo Diaz, Universidad de Chile midfielder: “This week we need to demonstrate what a great team we are. Our confidence and desire are still intact and we’ve proved in the past that we can turn adverse situations around. We’ve got the belief we can recover from results like this.”