Pressure on Boca, test for The Strongest
© AFP

The pace is hotting up in the Copa Libertadores 2012 as the group phase reaches the midway point. Among the sides with little margin for error are Boca Juniors, who take on compatriots Arsenal in one of the week’s most anticipated games. Meanwhile, surprise Group 1 leaders The Strongest face an away day at Internacional, one of the two Brazilian sides snapping at their heels. FIFA.com previews those ties and the pick of the week’s other nine games in Latin America’s premier club competition.

Game of the week
Arsenal (ARG) - Boca Juniors (ARG)
Group 4 – Wednesday 14 March, 19:45 (local time), Estadio Julio Grondona

The Argentinian champions are struggling in their Copa Libertadores return. Winless in their opening two matches in Group 4, Los Xeneizes saw a 36-game unbeaten run go up in smoke at home to Fluminense last week. Lying second in the section behind the Brazilians and two points clear of Boca, Gustavo Alfaro’s ever-combative Arsenal side will attempt to put even more distance between themselves and their misfiring opponents in a game that could well determine the fate of two sides who know each other inside out.

Elsewhere
Aside from the presence of Deco, Neymar, Ronaldinho and Juan Roman Riquelme in their respective teams, one of the week’s main attractions is The Strongest’s first away game in Group 1. Section frontrunners with six points out of six, the Bolivians will defend their perfect record at Internacional, who have ground to make up after going down to Santos last week. O Peixe, meanwhile, have a trip of their own to bottom club Juan Aurich, who are still pointless.

Leaders in Group 6 with two wins out of two, Cruz Azul entertain second-placed Corinthians in another of the week’s big games. Three more points will put the Mexicans on the brink of the last 16, although O Timão have designs on making the top spot theirs. An intriguing battle is also developing in Group 5, where pacesetters Libertad will go in search of their third straight victory at home to Vasco da Gama on Thursday, while the still-pointless Alianza Lima desperately need a win when they entertain Uruguay’s Nacional.

Player to watch
Maxi Biancucchi (Olimpia)
The 27-year-old Argentinian forward seems to have come of age with his Paraguayan employers. A cousin of Lionel Messi, Biancucchi has scored some vital goals lately, including the winner in the 2-1 defeat of Lanus last month, and returns to Rio de Janeiro to face his former club Flamengo with a place at the top of Group 2 at stake.

“I had some incredible times there but I picked up an injury and that held me back,” the player told FIFA.com in a recent interview, referring to his luckless spell at Flamengo, where he still managed to win three trophies.

Did you know?
In preparation for Wednesday’s match on Guadalajara’s artificial turf, Defensor Sporting coach Gustavo Diaz has had his side training all week on the synthetic pitches at the Uruguayan Football Association’s complex.

“We know it’s a different surface, but at least they won’t be taking us by surprise,” said Diaz. “We’re ready to go and fight for the three points and a place in the next round.”

What they said
Marcelo Gallardo, Nacional coach:
“I know Peruvian football’s going through a crisis, but I’m not taking anything for granted because we’ve watched videos of Alianza and we know their strengths. At Nacional we play an attacking game and we always look to dictate the pace. Even so, I’ll be taking a few precautions.”

This week’s fixtures
Tuesday
Internacional (BRA) - The Strongest (BOL)
Lanus (ARG) - Emelec (ECU)
Alianza Lima (PER) - Nacional (URU)
Nacional (PAR) - Tachira (VEN)

Wednesday
Arsenal (ARG) - Boca Juniors (ARG)
Fluminense (BRA) - Zamora (VEN)
Libertad (PAR) - Vasco da Gama (BRA)
Cruz Azul (MEX) - Corinthians (BRA)
Guadalajara (MEX) - Defensor Sporting (URU)

Thursday

Juan Aurich (PER) - Santos (BRA)
Flamengo (BRA) - Olimpia (PAR)