Copa Libertadores preview

The seventh week of games in the 2010 Copa Libertadores could prove decisive at both ends of the spectrum, with strong starters edging ever closer to a last-16 berth and others finding their dreams of glory slipping away. In a midweek schedule featuring 11 encounters, the only section not in action is Group 4, which features Paraguay’s Libertad, Universitario of Peru, Argentinian side Lanus and Bolivia’s Blooming.

As ever is on hand to preview all the action in Latin America’s biggest club competition.

Game of the week                                                                 
Universidad de Chile (CHI) - Flamengo (BRA)                          
Thursday 17 March, Estadio Monumental, Santiago, 21.50 (local time)

In a move prompted by the recent earthquake which hit Chile, fear of further tremors means visitors Flamengo have opted to fly in and fly out of the capital Santiago on the same day as their clash with Group 8 rivals Universidad de Chile – a decision that has not gone down well with their hosts. This note of controversy will add spice to an encounter between the section’s leading two sides, with the 2009 Brazilian champions in a position to virtually clinch a place in the knockout phase by making it three wins from three.

Also aiding the Fla cause is the return from injury of star striker Adriano, scorer of the penalty winner in the weekend’s derby win over Vasco da Gama, as well as the insider knowledge of Chilean duo Claudio Maldonado and Gonzalo Fierro. Universidad, two points behind Os Rubro-negros in second, have home advantage and will be determined to give their beleaguered country a boost with a win that would take them top of the group.

This Tuesday’s all-Peruvian meeting between Alianza Lima and Juan Aurich could provide the first qualifier for the next phase, with the former having won all three of their Group 3 matches so far. Juan Aurich would love to spoil the party, however, and provisionally overtake reigning champions Estudiantes La Plata, not in action this week, in the standings.

Also on Tuesday, Argentinian pair Velez Sarsfield and Banfield could take a hefty step towards the knockout rounds. Velez would move to nine points in Group 7 with an away win over Chile’s Colo Colo, while Group 6 pace-setters Banfield, the Apertura 2009 champions, host Uruguay’s Nacional who are currently two points behind them in second.

The highlight of Wednesday’s schedule, Universidad de Chile-Flamengo notwithstanding, is the Group 1 match between Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno and big-spending Corinthians of Brazil. The latter, who feature 2002 FIFA World Cup™ winners Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, lead the group, though they will not have it easy in Asuncion against a Cerro side determined to recover from a shaky start.

Turning to Thursday and the Group 2 fixtures catch the eye, with Mexico’s Monterrey set to host section leaders Once Caldas of Colombia, the 2004 Libertadores winners. Meanwhile Brazil’s Sao Paulo, continental champs as recently as 2005, welcome the group’s bottom side Nacional of Paraguay, who are staring elimination in the face after defeats in their three opening games.

Finally in Group 5, Brazil’s Internacional travel to Uruguay to take on leaders Cerro, who have a two-point cushion over the 2006 champions after wins in both their games so far. Os Gaúchos’ cause could be boosted by the return of experienced Argentinian keeper Roberto “Pato” Abbondanzieri, who was injured in last week’s 1-1 draw away to Deportivo Quito.

Player to watch                                                                        
Washington (Sao Paulo)                                                              
Though still to fully convince the O Tricolor Paulista faithful, the well-travelled target man has struck four times in just three Libertadores appearances so far this campaign. This tally came via a brace against Monterrey and a further double in last week’s 2-0 win in Paraguay against Nacional, a performance which earned him CONMEBOL’s player of the round award. Can the Paraguayan outfit find a way to stop him this time around?

The stat                                                                                              
6 – Of the eight groups in this year’s Libertadores, there are teams from six different countries currently atop the standings. Uruguay (Cerro), Paraguay (Libertad), Colombia (Once Caldas) and Peru (Alianza Lima) all have one representative apiece leading the way, while continental superpowers Brazil (Corinthians and Flamengo) and Argentina (Banfield and Velez) have two.

What they said                                                                              
“We can’t get carried away with all the praise we’re getting. Football is like that and we can’t take our foot off the pedal or think that we’ve already won something. We’ve not even qualified for the last 16 yet and we need to stay calm to prepare properly for this game,” Alianza Lima coach Gustavo Costa.

This week’s fixtures
Tuesday 16 February
Banfield (ARG) - Nacional (URU)
Juan Aurich (PER) - Alianza Lima (PER)
Colo Colo (CHI) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)

Wednesday 17 February
Monarcas Morelia (MEX) - Deportivo Cuenca (ECU)
Caracas (VEN) - Universidad Catolica (CHI)
Cerro Porteno (PAR) - Corinthians (BRA)
Universidad do Chile (CHI) - Flamengo (BRA)

Thursday 18 February
Monterrey (MEX) - Once Caldas (COL)
Cerro (URU) - Internacional (BRA)
Sao Paulo (BRA) - Nacional (PAR)
Independiente de Medellin (COL) - Racing (URU)