Goals, surprises and suspense
Nothing stirs the imagination in South America quite like the Copa Libertadores. The top 32 teams from 11 countries have been battling it out for the right to be called continental champions and represent the region at the FIFA Club World Championship this December in Japan. As this year's group stage reaches the halfway point, all is still to play for. No side is assured of a place in the last 16, and many of the continent's big guns find themselves in difficulty. Read on as FIFA.com brings you the best of the action so far in South America's premier club competition.
Leaders and rivals
América de Cali and River Plate have had some explosive meetings over the years. The Argentines have twice denied the Colombians the trophy, defeating them in the 1986 and 1996 Finals, while the Cafeteros extracted a measure of revenge by knocking their nemesis out at the quarter-final stage in 2003. Today, these two old rivals are the only sides with a 100% record after three games. And while River Plate's start was perhaps the more impressive, with two away wins to América de Cali's one, both Alberto Suárez and Leonardo Astrada look odds-on to guide their teams to the last 16.
Among the other group leaders, the Mexican sides are again conspicuous. The country's three representatives: Tigres, Chivas de Guadalajara and Pachuca all lead their respective groups. Brazilian side Palmeiras, Uruguay's Danubio, and Universidad de Chile hold top spot in the remaining groups.
Champions with it all to do
For many of the tournament favourites, passage to the last 16 looked to be quite straightforward - at least on paper. However, football often makes a mockery of such predictions and South America is no exception. The Argentine giants, Boca Juniors, finalists in four of the last five years, currently lie third in Group 8 and outside the qualifying places. With the spectre of Carlos Bianchi's departure seemingly still affecting the side, Boca know that they will need to produce something special if they are to dislodge Sporting Cristal and Pachuca from the top two spots.
As for reigning champions Once Caldas, they have yet to win a game and currently lie bottom of Group 7 on two points. With many of the cup-winning side having left the club, coach Víctor Luna has struggled to emulate last year's exploits in a tough group containing Chivas, San Lorenzo and Cobreloa. To make matters worse, the Colombian side were fined 10,000 dollars after the Uruguayan match official Jorge Larrionda was struck on the head with a projectile during a game in Manizales.
Another big side that is struggling is Brazil's FC Santos, runners-up in this competition in 2003. Despite having such luminaries as Robinho and Ricardinho in the team, the Brazilian champions have so far flattered to deceive. Two defeats in their opening three games cost former coach Oswaldo de Oliveira his job and has left Santos third in Group 2 behind the delighted Danubio and Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito.
Goals, goals, goals
Even though many of the continent's top goal-scorers currently ply their trade in Europe, the Copa Libertadores has provided proof that the region continues to nurture a dizzying array of talent. With 137 goals scored in just 48 games, fans will be expecting more of the same before the grand finale comes round in June.
Sao Paulo lead the goal-scoring charts with nine, yet still trail Universidad de Chile in Group 3. As for goals conceded, Libertad de Paraguay, the bottom side in Group 1, have that dubious distinction. They have shipped nine goals in three outings and might well be regretting the departure of former keeper Justo Villar to Argentina.
In the individual scorer's charts, Omar Bravo from Mexican side Chivas leads the way on four, with Bolívar midfielder Cristian Zermatten one behind after scoring a hat-trick against no less a team than Santos. Elsewhere, the quick thinking Ignacio González made an early claim for fastest goal of the tournament when he found the net for Uruguayan side Danubio after just 16 seconds. And which side were caught ball watching? You guessed it… Santos. On this occasion, however, Robinho and co. turned things round and ran out 3-2 winners.
Under this year's revised format, the top two sides from each group go through to the draw for the last sixteen knockout stage.