Next stop: the semis

After breaking off for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers last week, the Copa Libertadores de America resumes this week with four appetising quarter-final second-leg ties. Three weeks after their opening skirmishes, the remaining representatives from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela cross swords again with places in the last four up for grabs.

Game of the week
Nacional (URU) - Palmeiras (BRA)
Wednesday 17 June, Montevideo (Estadio Centenario) - 19:20 (local time)

Impressive throughout this year's competition, Nacional came away from Sao Paulo last month with a gutsy 1-1 draw and will be hoping to press home their advantage in front of their supporters at the Estadio Centenario on Wednesday. Gerardo Pelusso's side are aiming to become the first Uruguayan club to reach the last four since 1989 and are unlikely to underestimate their opponents. Vanderlei Luxemburgo's men have already shown the can get results on the road in this competition after their memorable win away to Colo Colo in the group phase. With the two quarter-finalists boasting no fewer than four continental titles between them, it is sure to be a fascinating encounter.  

Also vying for a last-four berth are Uruguay's second quarter-finalists, Defensor Sporting, winners of the country's Clausura only last weekend. That said, Los Violetas have it all to do after losing 1-0 at home to Estudiantes in the opening leg and will need a repeat of their heroic display away to Boca Juniors in the last 16. Meanwhile El Pincha, impressive since the appointment of Alejandro Sabella as coach, are the sole Argentinians left in the competition and would dearly love to get their hands on the trophy for a fourth time.

Also in need of a huge performance are Caracas FC, who made history this year by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time. After only managing a 1-1 draw at home to Gremio three weeks ago, the visitors must score in Porto Alegre to have any chance of progressing. For their part, the hosts have one very encouraging statistic in their favour, their keeper Victor having yet to concede in the four Libertadores ties he has played in this year at the Olimpico.

Whatever happens elsewhere, there will be at least one Brazilian side in the semis, after Sao Paulo and Cruzeiro square off for the third time in 20 days this Thursday. The Belo Horizonte side edged the first leg 2-1 and will be hoping to secure their first semi-final appearance in 11 years at the Morumbi. On June 2 at the same stadium, the Tricolor Paulista downed their quarter-final opponents 3-0 in the Brasileiro. What odds a repeat scoreline for Muricy Ramalho's men on Thursday?

Player to watch
Kleber (Cruzeiro)
The 25-year old, ironically a product of the Sao Paulo youth academy, seems to relish taking on his former employers. Having scored against them while at previous club Palmeiras, the front-man did it again for his current side in the first leg. Expect him to receive very close attention from the Paulista defenders at the Morumbi.

The stat
0 - The numbers of goals conceded by Estudiantes in the Copa Libertadores since Sabella took over the coaching reins. During his tenure, the La Plata outfit have played six Copa matches, scoring 12 unanswered goals. Small wonder then Pincha keeper Mariano Andujar is currently wearing the No1 jersey for the Albiceleste.

What they said
"I'm proud of what my players did in the first leg, when we were better than Gremio and deserved a win. We know it won't be easy in Brazil against a side with a great defence on top of everything else. But that's where we find ourselves - ready and willing to fly the flag for Venezuelan football." Caracas coach Noel Sanvicente.

Fixture summary
Wednesday 17
Nacional (URU) - Palmeiras (BRA)
Gremio (BRA) - Caracas (VEN)

Thursday 18
Estudiantes LP (ARG) - Defensor Sporting (URU)
Sao Paulo (BRA) - Cruzeiro (BRA)