By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
With group stages of the Copa Libertadores finally set to conclude next week, seven teams are officially out while four have tickets to the Round of 16. That leaves 21 teams to battle-royal it out for the remaining 12 posts available.
Boca Juniors, Uruguay's Nacional and Brazil's Cruzeiro can all clinch this week while defending champions Liga de Quito of Ecuador and River Place face elimination if they don't get results. There are also some showdowns that pit teams in a win-or-go-home situation this week as some groups wrap up play.
Here's a preview of this week's Libertadores matches:
All four teams each have two matches left and all four still have a chance to advance. Brazil's Palmeiras (4 pts) hosts Liga de Quito (4 pts) Tuesday, with the loser of this match most likely going home. The Ecuadorean squad will be missing Argentine midfielder Damian Manso, who is nursing a thigh strain.
Meanwhile, the two co-leaders of this group, Sport Recife and Chile's Colo Colo, both of whom have seven points, battle in Brazil Wednesday.
Ecuador's Deportivo Cuenca (6 pts) needs to win at home Thursday against group leaders Boca Juniors (12 pts), who will be without Juan Roman Riquelme. Cuenca has to keep pace with Venezuela's Deportivo Tachia (9 pts), who would get a comfortable lock on second place if the Ecuadoreans don't produce with the final matchday left next week.
Peru's San Martin (7 pts) would be very close to advancing if they win at home Tuesday against group leaders Nacional of Uruguay (10 pts). A win could also push River Plate (4 pts) closer to elimination if the Argentines don't get a result in Paraguay where they face the other Nacional (1 pt) on Thursday.
The showdown for second place and a spot into the next round is on the line Wednesday when Defensor's Sporting Defensor (5 pts) welcomes Colombia's Independiente Medellin (7 pts) in their final group match.
An already-qualified Sao Paulo (10 pts) hosts an already-eliminated America de Cali, Colombia to finish out the schedule. Curiously, Fox Sports en Espanol is deciding to show this meaningless match instead of the decisive match between Defensor-Medellin.
Three teams are still in the running for the two open spots in the final group matchday Wednesday as Argentina's Estudiantes de la Plata (9 pts) travel to Bolivia needing at least a tie when they face eliminated Universitario de Sucre. Brazil's Cruzeiro (10 pts) host Ecuador's Deportivo Quito (8 pts).
What matches will you be watching? Surprised at the parity of the Libertadores tournament? Do you think River and Liga de Quito will somehow make it through the next round? Share your thoughts below.