Copa Libertadores preview

There is a familiar look about the semi-final line-up in the 50th Copa Libertadores. Between them, the four remaining teams, Nacional of Uruguay, Estudiantes, Cruzeiro and Gremio, have won the famous trophy ten times. The question is, which of the quartet will take that tally to 11? looks ahead to the week's two first-leg ties.

The match
Wednesday 24 June, Estadio Governador Magalhaes Pinto (Mineirao), Belo Horizonte, 21.50 (local time)

Despite suffering a real scare against Caracas in the last round, Gremio remain firm candidates given the consistency they have shown throughout the competition. Unbeaten in ten Libertadores outings this season, with seven wins and three draws, the two-time champions have the most potent attack in the tournament and the tightest defence, having scored 17 goals and conceded only three. Moreover, Gremio fans have every confidence in experienced coach Paulo Autuori, who won the Libertadores 12 years ago with Wednesday's opponents Cruzeiro.

The men from Belo Horizonte, who have also won the competition twice, are in fine fettle themselves. Their last defeat in this season's Libertadores came over two months ago at Estudiantes, and they have won five games out of five at their Mineirao fortress, having now gone 417 minutes without letting in a goal at home. One cause for concern is their disciplinary record. Cruzeiro have had five men sent off during the campaign, more than any other team.

Player to watch
Souza (Gremio)
The 30-year-old midfielder is an incisive and pacy player who likes to get forward at every opportunity. The scorer of four goals in this year's tournament, Souza is a key component in Gremio's attacking set-up and something of a talisman too. O Tricolor Gaúcho have won all three of the matches they have scored in.

The stat
4 -
The number of times that the two sides have faced each other in the Copa Libertadores, all of those occasions coming in 1997, the year in which Cruzeiro won the trophy for the second and last time. Honours were even that season, with both sides claiming a home win and an away win apiece.

What they said
"I dreamt that we won the Libertadores. There are only four games to go but we need to be aware that these are the most important games of our lives. If we all get that clear in our minds, and if we all run and help each other, I'm sure we'll have a great chance of becoming champions," Cruzeiro forward Kleber

The match
Thursday 25 June, Estadio Ciudad La Plata, La Plata, 19.30 (local time)

Final opponents on two occasions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these two Libertadores thoroughbreds meet once more in an enticing tie. Yet despite winning the competition three times each, both sides have endured lean spells of late, having last reached the semis over 20 years ago. Given their recent form it is hard to choose a winner. Unbeaten Nacional have been consistent throughout their run to the last four, winning four and drawing four, while Estudiantes have improved greatly after a stuttering start and have gone seven games without conceding a goal.

The Argentinians' defensive solidity has been threatened by a series of injuries to several first-team players, prompting them to draft in experienced defender Rolando Schiavi, a Libertadores winner with Boca Juniors in 2003, on a short-term contract. Meanwhile, El Bolso, who are pondering whether to play one forward or two, could welcome back midfielder Alvaro Fernandez. Strangely, given the proximity between La Plata and Montevideo, there will be no away fans at either match.

Player to watch
Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes)
hopes hinge to a large extent on the 34-year-old, who is the team's heartbeat and midfield orchestrator. Estudiantes have lost only twice in 19 games since Alejandro Sabella took over as coach, with Veron absent on both occasions. Can La Brujita now go on and emulate his father Juan Ramon by winning the competition with the club he started his career with?

The stat
2 -
The number of times Estudiantes and Nacional have met in the final of the Copa Libertadores. In 1969, El Pincha won 1-0 in Montevideo and 2-0 in La Plata to claim their second title. Two years later, El Bolso gained revenge, losing 1-0 in Argentina, winning 1-0 in the return in Uruguay, and then prevailing 2-0 in the play-off in Peru.

What they said
"We are in the last four and one of us will be the champions. We have the same chance and the same dreams as the other sides. Why shouldn't we believe we can do it?" Nacional coach Gerardo Pelusso