There are nine games on the Copa Libertadores menu this week, with seven of these part of the penultimate round of group fixtures. Moreover, these duels feature a host of clashes pitting teams in direct competition for a knockout place against each other. FIFA.com takes a look ahead at another crucial week in Latin America’s leading club competition.
Game of the week
Internacional (BRA) - Cerro (URU)
Wednesday 31 March, 21.50 (local time) – Estadio Beira-Rio
Though only in the Inter hotseat for less than three months, a run of six games without a win means Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati’s job is hanging by a thread. Following Sunday’s state championship reverse against Caxias, Fossati suggested that he may step down should the Porto Alegre outfit lose their next game.
His Colorado charges will not have an easy time of it against Cerro, with the Uruguayan visitors top of Group 5 on seven points from four games, two clear of Wednesday’s opponents. The two teams met in the Uruguayan city of Rivera in the previous round of matches, thousands of Inter fans making the trip to the border city to watch their side come away from the Estadio Atilio Paiva with a 0-0 draw. Rounding off the Group 5 action this week is the meeting between Ecuadorian duo Emelec and Deportivo Quito.
In Group 7, Brazil’s Cruzeiro welcome section leaders Velez Sarsfield to the Mineirao looking to exact revenge for a 2-0 defeat on Argentinian soil in the pair’s opening group game. A home win would drag A Raposa level on points with the visitors, though victory for Velez would book their place in the knockout phase and leave Cruzeiro needing a result at Chile’s Colo Colo in their final group match.
Over in Group 3, reigning champions Estudiantes have a tough away trip against Peru’s Juan Aurich in Chiclayo, while leading goalscorer Mauro Boselli is an injury doubt, as are Enzo Perez and German Re. The visitors are in second place in the section, two points behind Alianza Lima and one ahead of their hosts, and defeat for either side could prove very costly.
Other teams unable to afford slip-ups are Mexican duo Monterrey and Morelia. The former, third in Group 2 on five points, host section leaders Sao Paulo needing a win to keep their fate in their own hands. Group rivals Once Caldas of Colombia, second on eight points, welcome rock-bottom Nacional de Paraguay. Morelia, third in Group 6 on four points, host second-placed Banfield and victory would move them level with the Argentinian outfit.
Turning to Group 4, where Paraguay’s Libertad, currently level on eight points with Peru’s Universitario at the top of the standings, take on Argentinian side Lanus, who are two points further back. Things are not so tight in Group 1, however, with big-spending Corinthians having the chance to go three points clear at the top after four games. They welcome bottom-side Cerro Porteno of Paraguay, who have picked up a solitary point from their three encounters so far.
Player to watch
Roberto Carlos (Corinthians)
The veteran left-back is becoming a key component of O Timão’s arsenal, with his thunderous left-foot drives and tremendous physical attributes still very much in evidence. Having settled in quickly following his return from Europe, the 2002 FIFA World Cup™-winner will have thoroughly enjoyed thumping a trademark effort past Sao Paulo keeper Rogerio Ceni in Sunday’s Paulista clássico.
3 – The number of points separating the second-placed teams with the best and worst records. Only six of the eight group runners-up will progress to the quarter-finals with Once Caldas and Universitario, on eight points, currently best-placed and Internacional, on five points but having played a game less, bringing up the rear.
What they said
“This game is like a final for us. We need to be more direct in terms of getting the ball into the box and taking our chances. We can’t afford the luxury of wasting opportunities,” Juan Aurich coach Luis Suarez, speaking ahead of the meeting with holders Estudiantes.
This week’s fixtures
Tuesday 30 March
Libertad (PAR) - Lanus (ARG)
Juan Aurich (PER) - Estudiantes (ARG)
Wednesday 31 March
Cruzeiro (BRA) - Velez Sarsfield (ARG)
Monterrey (MEX) - Sao Paulo (BRA)
Internacional (BRA) - Cerro (URU)
Thursday 01 April
Monarcas Morelia (MEX) - Banfield (ARG)
Corinthians (BRA) - Cerro Porteno (PAR)
Emelec (ECU) - Deportivo Quito (ECU)
Once Caldas (COL) - Nacional (PAR)