Continent champions kick off campaign
All eyes are on reigning champions Santos this week, as they take their bow in the 2012 Copa Libertadores. Still spearheaded by the flamboyant Neymar, the holders begin their quest to retain the title with an away day in La Paz against The Strongest.
O Peixe are not the only recent continental trophy winners in action in the next few days. Also entering the fray are newly-crowned Copa Sudamericana victors Universidad de Chile, who take on Atletico Nacional in Colombia in one of the week’s eight games.
FIFA.com looks ahead to both matches and the rest of the midweek card.
Game of the week
The Strongest (BOL) - Santos (BRA)
Group 1 - Wednesday 15 February, 19.45 (local time), Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz
The most eagerly awaited debut of this year’s Libertadores takes place on Wednesday, with last year's champions beginning their defence 3,600 metres above sea level. Still coached by Muricy Ramalho and led by the inimitable Neymar, O Peixe will be banking on their individual flair and the experience they acquired in their victorious 2011 campaign and in finishing runners-up at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December.
Aside from his team’s relative lack of preparation for the tournament and the physical demands of playing at altitude, Ramalho’s main concern will be the strength of their opponents, who are currently fighting to win their eighth Bolivian championship.
Universidad de Chile ended last year in style by winning the Copa Sudamericana, their maiden international title, and will put their new-found status to the test against Atletico Nacional in Medellin in the opening game in Group 8.
Libertadores winners several times over, Boca Juniors make their first outing in Group 4 away to new boys Zamora of Venezuela. The reigning Argentinian champions are overwhelming favourites to kick off with a win, having gone 30 league games without defeat.
Once again Brazil have more representatives in the competition than any other country, two of whom are stepping out this week. Victors over Real Potosi in the preliminary round, Flamengo kick off their Group 2 campaign away to Lanus, while Corinthians will look to erase memories of last year’s shock preliminary-round exit to Deportes Tolima, when they visit Group 6 rivals Deportivo Tachira.
Player to watch
Santiago Silva (Boca Juniors)
There are plenty of good reasons to keep a close eye on Boca’s Uruguayan striker Santiago Silva when they take on Zamora. El Tanque (The Tank) arrived in Buenos Aires at the start of the year and is eligible only for the Copa Libertadores, having already played for two clubs this season: Velez Sarsfield and Fiorentina. Silva will be anxious to impress, especially with memories still fresh of his fateful last appearance in the competition, when he blazed over from the spot with 15 minutes remaining of last year’s semi-final against Penarol, a miss that allowed the Uruguayans to scrape through on aggregate.
Did you know?
Venezuela’s Zamora are the only Libertadores debutants in action this week. Also taking to the field will be six former winners accounting for 19 titles between them. Boca Juniors have the most with six, followed by Penarol with five, three-time winners Santos and Nacional of Uruguay, and Flamengo and Atletico Nacional with one apiece.
What they said
“The Copa Sudamericana is history now and this is a different competition altogether. We’ve earned a lot of respect and a reputation for ourselves but this is a whole new tournament. Both sides like to play good football, and it's going to be an entertaining game. We’ll be looking to go out there and enjoy ourselves, just as our coach has asked us to do.” Universidad de Chile captain Jose Rojas looks forward to their meeting with Nacional.
Thursday 16 February
Nacional (URU) - Libertad (PAR)
Godoy Cruz (ARG) - Penarol (URU)