Copa Libertadores preview
© AFP

Excitement has been building across South America this week as the countdown to the Copa Libertadores semi-final second legs continue. Although Estudiantes and Cruzeiro made home advantage count with first-leg victories last week, the ties look far from over. Can Nacional and Gremio bounce back and secure their passage to the final? FIFA.com looks ahead to what should be two intriguing games.

The match
Nacional (URU) - Estudiantes de La Plata (ARG)
Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay, Wednesday 1 July, 21:15 (local time).

Much of the attention in the build-up has centred on Juan Sebastian Veron, who remains a doubt for tonight's fixture after picking up an injury in the first leg in La Plata. If La Brujita is to miss the clash in Montevideo, Estudiantes' slender 1-0 lead could well come under increased pressure. That said, the Argentinians have been impressive on their travels of late, managing shutouts in their last four games on the road.

News of Veron's probable absence was greeted cautiously by Nacional, where the talk was more about their own injured players, namely Alexander Medina, Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Arismeni. In contrast to Veron, however, the trio look almost certain to be available for the big game, for which Tricolor coach Gerardo Pelusso is expected to field a withdrawn striker and two forwards. Pelusso's charges also have history in their favour as, in the last two home-and-away ties between the sides, the team which lost 1-0 in the first leg have gone on to win the second 2-0.

Player to watch
Nicolas Lodeiro (Nacional)
Though barely 20, this audacious and skilful attacking midfielder has had no problems leading by example for Nacional in this year's tournament, in which he's currently the team's topscorer with four goals. Can he continue his sparkling form in the return game against Estudiantes?

The stat
13 -
The number of consecutive home games in which Nacional have remained unbeaten in the Copa Libertadores, comprising ten wins and three draws. They last lost at home on 27 April 2006 in a 2-1 first-leg defeat to Internacional of Porto Alegre in the last 16.

What they said
"It's a pity Sebastian (Veron) isn't playing, but we'll have to get by without him. We've got to really believe we can win in Uruguay and build on what we've achieved up to now, as it's this positive attitude which has brought us to the semi-finals," Estudiantes forward Mauro Boselli

The match
Gremio (BRA) - Cruzeiro (BRA)
Estadio Olimpico, Porto Alegre, Brazil, Thursday 2 July, 21:50 (local time).

Despite Gremio's near exemplary home record in this year's competition - four wins, one draw, no goals conceded - they will have to make full use of their attacking strengths if they are to overturn the 3-1 defeat suffered last week in Belo Horizonte. In this respect, they most certainly will not be lacking in firepower, with their attacking trio of Souza (five goals), Maxi Lopez (four) and Wellington Paulista (three) having netted 12 of the team's 18 strikes in this year's Libertadores.

The hosts will not need reminding that Cruzeiro have won three of their five away games in this year's competition, including impressive last-16 and quarter-final wins in Santiago and Sao Paulo respectively. The visitors' first-leg advantage coupled with the return of midfielder Ramires has fans of A Raposa dreaming of reaching their fourth Libertadores final.

Player to watch
Ramires (Cruzeiro)
The 22-year-old midfielder, the team's topscorer in last year's competition and an automatic pick for coach Adilson Batista, returns to the side after helping Brazil to victory at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa. Will he be able to inspire the Belo Horizonte side to the Libertadores title before leaving for Benfica in Portugal?

The stat
235
- The number of games Gremio and Cruzeiro have racked up in the Copa Libertadores between them. While the Tricolor Gaucho have played 129, with 61 wins, 34 draws and 32 defeats, the Bestia Negra have played 106, achieving 65 victories, 16 draws and 24 losses.

What they said
"We've got a saying here: 'Where there's life there's hope.' Nothing is impossible - just ask Spain who recently lost to the United States. If we can reproduce the form we showed in the first half in Belo Horizonte, where our away goal got us right back into the game, then we can still turn this tie around," Gremio forward Souza.