Last-minute rush for knockout slots
The last four places in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores will be decided this week as the group phase reaches its conclusion. Also to be finalised is the order of the 16 qualifiers and who will face who in the first knockout round. Of the 12 games on the card, only the match between Penarol and Godoy Cruz will have no impact on the rest of the competition, all of which means it should be quite a week. FIFA.com sets the scene for the next compelling act in Latin America’s most important club competition.
Game of the week
Bolivar (BOL) - Universidad Catolica (CHI)
Group 3, Tuesday 17 April, 21:30, Estadio Hernando Siles
This high-stakes showdown in La Paz will decide who qualifies from Group 3 along with Union Espanola. Second on seven points, Bolivar need only a draw to advance, and having prevailed in their only two previous home games with Universidad Catolica in the Libertadores, the Bolivians will be confident of getting what they need. A point behind in third, the Chileans have no option but to go for broke if they are to defy history and join compatriots Union in the next round.
Without the injured William Ferreyra, Bolivar coach Mario Lepe will perm Ever Cantero up front with Juan Carlos Arce and Damian Lizio. Universidad Catolica, meanwhile, will make their arrival in La Paz just two hours before a game that captain Cristian Alvarez has described as the most important of the year.
In the other match in the section, leaders Union Espanola visit bottom club Junior with designs on increasing their points haul and earning themselves a more favourable draw in the next round.
There is a similar situation in Group 7, where Deportivo Quito and Defensor Sporting are fighting it out for second place. Deportivo have seven points to Defensor’s six and also have the advantage of playing the already eliminated Guadalajara at home, while the Uruguayans travel to group winners Velez Sarsfield, who have 12 points to their name and aim to post the best record of the 16 qualifiers.
The picture is a little less clear in Group 1, where both qualification berths have still to be decided. That said, it will take a dramatic turnaround to prevent leaders Santos and fellow countrymen Internacional from progressing. O Peixe have ten points in the bank and to be sure of going through they need only to avoid defeat by five goals at home to The Strongest, who lie third on seven. With Neymar in such scintillating form of late however, the defending champions will be setting their sights a little higher than that. Saddled with a far worse goal difference than both Brazilian sides, the Bolivians have to beat Santos and hope that second-placed Inter, who have eight points, fail to win on their visit to Peruvian makeweights Juan Aurich.
Points tallies and final placings are the only issues at stake in the week’s remaining games. Group 4 leaders Fluminense lost their 100 per cent record at home to Boca Juniors last week, and have a second chance to move on to 15 points when they visit Arsenal. Still harbouring ambitions of taking top spot, Los Xeneizes will be hoping for a draw in that game combined with a win for themselves at home to group also-rans Zamora.
In Group 6 meanwhile, Corinthians have a seemingly straightforward assignment at home to bottom side Deportivo Tachira. Having hit the front in the Sao Paulo state championship, O Timão will feel confident about finishing the section with 14 points, while Cruz Azul, who are already through with them, entertain Nacional of Paraguay in the other game.
Finally, Universidad de Chile and Atletico Nacional meet in Santiago in a straight fight for first place in Group 8. Trailing the Colombians by a point, the Chileans will have the added incentive of trying to avenge the 2-0 defeat they suffered in Medellin back in February.
Player to watch
Rafael Moura (Fluminense)
With first-choice striker Fred sidelined by a right thigh injury, habitual substitute Rafael Moura has an opportunity to show what he can do on what will be his first start for Flu. Moura has plenty of continental experience behind him, however, having led the Goias front line in their fine run to the final of the Copa Sudamericana 2010.
Did you know?
Brazil are poised to have five teams in the knockout phase of the Libertadores for the fifth year running, and the sixth in the last seven. Fluminense, Corinthians and Vasco da Gama are already through, with Santos and Inter set to join them, barring an unexpected turn of events. The country has dominated the competition since 2005, winning four titles and having at least one representative in the last seven finals.
What they said
“There is a precedent and that’s the Maracanazo [Uruguay’s shock defeat of Brazil in the decisive game of the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™]. I’ve been thinking a lot about that match. Sometimes you get teams who count their chickens, and we’ll be going there looking to cause an upset,” Eduardo Villegas, The Strongest coach.
Copa Libertadores fixtures
Tuesday 17 April
Junior (COL) v Union Espanola (CHI)
Bolivar (BOL) v Universidad Catolica (CHI)
Deportivo Quito (EQU) v Chivas Guadalajara (MEX)
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) v Defensor (URU)
Wednesday 18 April
Arsenal (ARG) v Fluminense (BRA)
Boca Juniors (ARG) v Zamora (VEN)
Corinthians (BRA) v Deportivo Tachira (VEN)
Cruz Azul (MEX) v Nacional (PAR)
Thursday 19 April
Juan Aurich (PER) v Internacional (BRA)
Santos (BRA) v The Strongest (BOL)
Penarol (URU) v Godoy Cruz (ARG)
Universidad de Chile (CHI) v Atletico Nacional (COL)