Copa Libertadores preview
© AFP

The group stage of the Copa Libertadores 2010 is set to enter a decisive phase, with a clutch of games that could push some sides to the brink of elimination and take others to the threshold of the last 16. FIFA.com runs the rule over this week’s eight matches.

Game of the week
Velez Sarsfield-Colo Colo
Thursday 25 March, Estadio Jose Amalfitani, 19.00 (local time)

Following last week’s pulsating 1-1 draw, El Fortín and El Cacique face off again, this time in Buenos Aires. The Chilean heavyweights have never fared well in Argentina, losing ten times and drawing on their other four visits. Velez are in fine form going into the rematch and lead the way in Group 7 with seven points, three ahead of their opponents on Thursday, who will no doubt still be reflecting on Velez’s injury-time equaliser in Santiago. Victory for the hosts will put them in a strong position and leave Los Colocolinos with much to do.

Elsewhere
Defending champions Estudiantes and Cruzeiro, the side they beat to claim the 2009 title, are both in action over the next couple of days. El Pincha lie third in Group 3 and need a win at home to the virtually eliminated Bolivar if they are to replace Juan Aurich in second and cut into the five-point deficit separating them from section leaders Alianza Lima.

A Raposa are sitting in a slightly more comfortable position in Group 7. Currently sandwiched between Velez and Colo-Colo, the Brazilian outfit can take a significant step towards qualification if they beat bottom side Deportivo Italia at the Estadio Mineirao and the section’s Argentinian pacesetters overcome their Chilean rivals.

One of the most intriguing match-ups of the week pits first against second in Group 4 as Libertad entertain Universitario de Peru in Asuncion. The visitors, who have never won in Paraguay, face a stiff test against a team that has yet to concede a goal in the group phase. In the other game in the section, Lanus are at home to a Blooming team with no option but to collect three points if they wish to stay in contention.

Group 8 adversaries Universidad Catolica and Caracas will have little margin for error when they meet in Chile, with neither side having yet managed a win. Deportivo Quito and Emelec, third and fourth respectively in Group 5, are in a similar situation. Whoever comes off worse in their meeting in Ecuador can all but say goodbye to progression in this year’s tournament.

The week’s other game is in Group 1, with Racing Montevideo taking on Independiente Medellin in the Uruguayan capital. Second behind Corinthians, Racing are a point clear of their Colombian opponents, who have drawn all three of their games to date and need to start winning sooner rather than later.

Player to watch
Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes)
After hitting a hat-trick in his side’s opening game, last year’s leading Libertadores scorer been out of luck on his previous two outings in Group 3. Boselli was in fine form at the weekend, however, claiming a brace against Atletico Tucuman to close the gap on the Argentinian league’s top marksmen. Can he produce the goods against Bolivar?

The stat
39 - The number of years since Deportivo Italia won for the first and only time on Brazilian soil, a 1-0 defeat of Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro on 3 March 1971. In their six other visits to Brazil, the Venezuelan club have lost four and drawn two, one of them a 4-4 spectacular against this week’s opponents Cruzeiro in 1967.

What they said
“We want to beat Libertad and reach the last 16. We owe it to the fans and to ourselves,” Universitario de Peru forward Gianfranco Labarthe.


Forthcoming fixtures
Tuesday
Estudiantes (ARG) - Bolivar (BOL)
Libertad (PAR) - Universitario (PER)

Wednesday
Lanus (ARG) - Blooming (BOL)
Universidad de Catolica (CHI) - Caracas (VEN)
Cruzeiro (BRA) - Deportivo Italia (VEN)

Thursday
Deportivo Quito (ECU) - Emelec (ECU)
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) - Colo-Colo (CHI)
Racing Montevideo (URU) - Independiente Medellin (COL)