Copa Libertadores preview

The race for the Copa Libertadores trophy is intensifying, with this week’s last 16, second legs deciding which eight teams will stay in the hunt for Latin America’s biggest club prize. previews the upcoming action.

Game of the week
Wednesday 5 May, Estadio Pacaembu, 21.50 (local time)

Having missed out in their respective state championships, Brazil’s two best-supported clubs have been able to fully focus on their biggest encounter of the year so far. Fla, who hold a 1-0 first-leg lead, have handed interim coach Rogerio Lourenco the job on a permanent basis and have star striker Adriano fit to start up front.

O Timão, for their part, welcome back goalkeeper Felipe ahead of their bid to turn the tie around and keep up their charge for a first Libertadores crown in their centenary year. Lending his support to Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Co is Brazilian President and Corinthians follower Lula, who paid a visit to the club’s pre-match training camp.

Another evenly balanced tie due to be decided on Brazilian soil is the encounter between Sao Paulo and Peruvian outfit Universitario, after the pair shared a goalless draw in Lima last week. O Tricolor Paulista, with triumphs in 1992, 1993 and 2005, are Brazil’s most successful club in the competition and in the 2010 event have won all their home games without conceding a goal.

Internacional, fresh from defeat by arch-rivals Gremio in the Campeonato Gaucho final, have a far tougher task. Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Jorge Fossati’s men take on a Banfield side which rested its first-choice performers at the weekend. What is more, El Taladro are unbeaten on their travels in this year’s competition and the Argentinian club are well-placed to match their best-ever Libertadores performance: a berth in the last eight in 2005.

Reigning champions Estudiantes are in a promising position after a second-string side won 1-0 away against Mexico’s San Luis in the first leg. El Pincha, also currently top of the Argentinian Clausura with two matchdays remaining, have won all their home games in the Libertadores 2010 and will be confident of progress even without the injured Rodrigo Brana.

Guadalajara, who like fellow Mexican outfit San Luis travel to Argentina, have a much brighter outlook after picking up a comprehensive 3-0 win over Velez Sarsfield despite missing leading players to national-team duty. Las Chivas have a sizeable lead to protect in Buenos Aires though they can expect a fierce onslaught from Velez, touted as tournament contenders during the group phase.

Nacional of Montevideo have a weighty task ahead against Cruzeiro, 3-1 winners in the first leg, while Paraguay’s Libertad welcome 2004 champions Once Caldas to Asuncion following last week’s goalless draw in Colombia. Tournament revelations Universidad de Chile, leading 1-0 from the first 90 minutes, travel to face Alianza Lima of Peru. A win for the Chilean club would be their first away from Santiago in the knockout stages of the competition.

Player to watch
James Rodriguez (Banfield)

The 18-year-old Colombian, who bears a remarkable physical resemblance to Cristiano Ronaldo, is a key element in Banfield’s attacking arsenal and has already fired five goals in this year’s Libertadores. The gifted left-footed midfielder’s audacious and direct style could prove vital during a tough test in Porto Alegre.

The stat

0 – The number of times Velez Sarsfield have beaten Mexican teams in Libertadores history. Of four encounters, two against Morelia and two against Guadalajara, Velez have lost two and drawn two. Three goals down from the first leg against Chivas, Ricardo Gareca’s charges need to break their duck in emphatic style to progress.

What they said
“We’re not going to the Morumbi to hope for the best. We’re going to win the game and reach the next round. We’re not scared - why should we be?” Universitario President Jaime Leon.

Last 16, seconds legs
Velez (ARG) – Chivas (MEX)
Sao Paulo (BRA) – Universitario (PER)

Estudiantes (ARG) – San Luis (MEX)
Corinthians (BRA) – Flamengo (BRA)
Nacional (URU) – Cruzeiro (BRA)

Internacional (BRA) – Banfield (ARG)
Universidad de Chile (CHI) – Alianza Lima (PER)
Libertad (PAR) – Once Caldas (COL)