Copa Libertadores preview
© AFP

Following a short break for last week’s round of international friendlies, the Copa Libertadores returns in style with no fewer than 13 games spread over the next three days. On the menu are enticing local duels in Chile and Peru, a Brazilian full house and another stern examination on the road for reigning champions Estudiantes. FIFA.com sets the scene as the group phase continues in Latin America’s leading club competition.

Game of the week
Universidad Catolica-Universidad de Chile (CHI)
Tuesday 9 March, Estadio Francisco Sanchez Rumoroso, Coquimbo, 21.15 (local time)

Chile will try to forget its pain and suffering for a few short hours when the two Santiago rivals come together in a continental edition of the clásico universitario, which has been moved north to the city of Coquimbo following last month’s devastating earthquake. The Group 8 adversaries go into the game having made very different starts to their Copa campaigns: Los Cruzados went down 2-0 at Flamengo, while Los Azules kicked off with a narrow 1-0 home win over Caracas. Though La U comfortably hold sway in the head-to-head statistics, La Católica have won nine of the 11 two-legged ties the two sides have contested in both the Chilean championship and international competitions.

Elsewhere
The pick of the two games in Group 3 pits together Peruvian rivals Alianza Lima and Juan Aurich. Gustavo Costas’s side top the section with two wins out of two, while Luis Fernando Suarez’s charges share second place with defending champions Estudiantes, who will look to recover from their heavy defeat in Lima three weeks ago when they take on Bolivar in La Paz. The Bolivians are bottom of the group having registered defeats in their first two outings.

All five Brazilian teams are in action this week, with Corinthians going in search of another three points in Group 1. After kicking off their Libertadores mission with a home win over Racing Montevideo, O Timão make the trip to the Colombian capital Bogota to take on Independiente Medellin. Compatriots Flamengo are also on the road, crossing swords with Caracas in Venezuela. The Rio side also got off to a winning start in Group 8 but will face a stiff test against Los Rojos del Ávila, who have yet to get off the mark. Sao Paulo take on Nacional in Paraguay, hoping to erase memories of their recent loss to Once Caldas in Group 2, while Internacional will look to keep the winning habit away to Deportivo Quito in Group 5, and Cruzeiro pay a visit to an intrepid Deportivo Italia team in Group 7.

Completing the week’s entertainment are the respective visits of Banfield and Monarcas Morelia to Nacional and Deportivo Cuenca in Group 6, and the meetings between Emelec and Cerro in Group 5, and Racing Montevideo-Cerro Porteno in Group 1. Group 4, meanwhile, is the only one of the eight sections not in action this week.

Player to watch
Vagner Love (Flamengo)
With team-mate Adriano sidelined due to personal problems, the job of leading the Mengão attack in Caracas will fall to the former CSKA Moscow striker. His side’s top scorer in the Rio de Janeiro state championship, the 25-year-old also leads the way in terms of assists and will be intent on reproducing his domestic form on the continental stage.

The stat
9 -
The number of teams who still boast 100 per cent records in this year’s competition, although of that group only Once Caldas, Alianza Lima, Banfield and Velez Sarsfield have played more than one game.

What they said
“There are people who criticise me or want me out of the club, but the reality is out there on the pitch. We’re top of the league and now we’re going to focus on the Racing game. The only way they’ll drag me out of here is if I’m dead,” Cerro Porteno coach Pedro Troglio.


This week’s fixtures
Tuesday 9
Racing Montevideo (URU) – Cerro Porteno (PAR)
Bolivar (BOL) – Estudiantes (ARG)
Deportivo Cuenca (ECU) – Monarcas Morelia (MEX)
Universidad Catolica (CHI) – Universidad de Chile (CHI)

Wednesday 10
Independiente Medellin (COL) – Corinthians (BRA)
Once Caldas (COL) – Monterrey (MEX)
Alianza Lima (PER) – Juan Aurich (PER)
Nacional (URU) – Banfield (ARG)
Caracas (VEN) – Flamengo (BRA)

Thursday 11
Nacional (PAR) – Sao Paulo (BRA)
Emelec (ECU) – CA Cerro (URU)
Deportivo Quito (ECU) – Internacional (BRA)
Deportivo Italia (VEN) – Cruzeiro (BRA)