By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
With four rounds gone for most teams and several already eliminated, it's time to assess and provide a brief synopsis on which squads look good enough to go deep into the Copa Libertadores pool, which teams will have a tough time making noise in the subsequent round and which teams will crash and burn.
So far, both of Bolivia's representatives and Paraguay's Nacional are out while both of Venezuela's squads are close to being ousted as well. Meanwhile, two of Uruguay's modest teams are surprising opponents and fans while defending champions Estudiantes de la Plata is in a dogfight with two Peruvian teams to advance to the next round. The tournament may only see one team each from Colombia, Paraguay and Chile move on, leaving the majority of participants, including those from Brazil and Argentina, to join Mexico's Chivas and San Luis, who were given special placements into the Round of 16 due to last year's swine flu debacle.
Here is an in-depth look at each team and their order in their respective tables:
CORINTHIANS (7 pts)
O Timao and Ronaldo will assure a passage to the next round at home this week with a win against an almost-eliminated Cerro Porteno. Striker Dentinho and midfielder Elias have been in fine form with ageless defender Roberto Carlos providing a spark while O Fenomeno has been on and off in form. Corinthians are coming off of a 4-3 derby win over rivals Sao Paulo on Saturday, helped by a last-minute own-goal.
RACING (7 pts)
The modest Uruguayan side should be proud of its achievements thus far, this being their first Libertadores campaign and all. However, with firepower in striker Martin Cauteruccio and midfielder youngster Matias Mirabaje, the Uruguayans are not settling for gold stars at the moment and are seeking to bring their country's soccer image back to power status.
INDEPENDIENTE MEDELLIN (3 pts)
The Colombians are doing well in their domestic league and only have one loss in Libertadores. Unfortunately, they also have three draws, translating into three points in four matches. With Corinthians and Racing comfortably controlling their destinies, it appears that the Medellin team will fall shy of its advancement goal.
CERRO PORTENO (1 pt)
The Paraguayan outfit is tops of the table in their country's domestic league but are bottomfeeders in this group. This week's match in Brazil against Corinthians should officially end their international aspirations.
SAO PAULO (9 pts)
Veteran striker Washington and young winger Fernando are supplying the goods for the Tricolor Paulista as is Rogerio, one of the most prolific goalscorers as a goalie. The Brazilians have a tough task at hand, however, in Mexico this week against a Monterrey side that's looking to stay afloat in the competition but Sao Paulo have the weapons to snatch an away victory and possibly book its ticket to the next phase in doing so.
ONCE CALDAS (8 pts)
Most MLS fans know Juan Carlos Osorio was a risk-taker but this time his blueprint has worked so far. The former Red Bulls manager is using a three-man frontline instead of using a class No. 10 playmaker and the plan has paid dividends. Young hotshots Fernando Uribe and Dany Santoyra, along with veteran Dayro Moreno, have provided the artillery for the Whites, who could possibly secure passage to the next phase with a home win on Thursday against the eliminated bottomfeeders.
MONTERREY (5 pts)
The Mexican champions, which currently sit behind Chivas in the overall table in the Mexican league, need a strong display against Sao Paulo on Wednesday if they look to continue their Libertadores lives. The Rayados have Jesus de Nigris and Neri Cardozo at their disposal as well as Paraguay midfielder Osvaldo Martinez.
NACIONAL (0 pts)
The 2009 Paraguayan Clausura champs are winless in their four matches so far.
ALIANZA LIMA (9 pts)
The Peruvian side suffered their first loss of the tournament two weeks ago in northern Peru against compatriots Juan Aurich after bombarding through opponents in its first three matches, including a 4-1 dismantling of Estudiantes. The Blanquiazules, who are currently in the midst of a domestic slump, host an eliminated Bolivar next week and should advance.
ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA (7 pts)
The defending champions travel to Peru this week to prepare for an all-out battle against Aurich. With Alianza virtually assured of a berth, the Argentines will have to duke it out with Peru's other representative in this group and on turf no less in a candidate for game of the week.
JUAN AURICH (6 pts)
Aurich took apart Alianza in its last outing and will look to do the same against Estudiantes tonight. The Ciclon del Norte have some fine players to deploy, including leading tournament scorer, Panamanian Luis Tejada, as well as Colombian Ricardo Ciciliano and young Peruvian starlet Reimond Manco, on loan from PSV Eindhoven.
BOLIVAR (0 pts)
The Bolivians kept up with Estudiantes in the first half of its 2-0 last week but were picked apart in the second, leading to their ouster from the tournament.
LIBERTAD (8 pts)
The Paraguay side are coming off of a 1-1 draw against Peru's Universitario last week, a match that they should've won. Tonight, they face a desperate Lanus side, who've clawed their way back into the race. But Libertad may be too strong for the Argentines and should remain tops of the table on goals with a win.
UNIVERSITARIO DE DEPORTES (8 pts)
Luis 'Cachito' Ramirez, a former Libertad player, came back to haunt his old team in last week's draw when he netted an 87th-minute equalizer for the Peruvian side. La U host an eliminated Blooming next week and should confirm its move to the next round.
LANUS (3 pts)
It may be too late for the Argentines after opening their Libertadores season with two losses while Libertad and La U opened up a gap over them. Lanus barely squeaked out a 1-0 win at home last week against the cellar dwellers and, should they miraculously advance, will do so if one of the top two teams in the group chokes.
BLOOMING (0 pts)
After four matches and 11 goals conceded, the Bolivians are on their way to crashing out as the worst team in the tournament.
CERRO (7 pts)
Aside from Group 1's Racing, this other Uruguayan team is turning heads in its country as well as the continent. The Cerrense just finished topping one of the giants of Uruguay and South American soccer, Nacional, 3-1 in its domestic league on Saturday and now travel to Brazil to face Internacional. Striker Rodrigo Mora has been on fire and should provide the Brazilian defense a tough assignment.
INTERNACIONAL (5 pts)
The Colorado couldn't take advantage of the 12th man, with thousands of its traveling fans crossing the border into Uruguay following a goalless draw against Cerro two weeks ago. Now they host the Uruguayans on Wednesday but, even so, Inter hasn't shined as a Brazilian team usually does. Inter will advance but most likely at the expense of the two Ecuadorean teams that aren't playing up to par. Jorge Fossati, Inter's Uruguayan manager, has already stated that he will quit if his team doesn't pick up a favorable result against Cerro.
DEPORTIVO QUITO (4 pts)
The Ecuadorean media was not impressed with Deportivo Quito's 1-0 win over compatriots Emelec last week but the thought of one team from their country possibly moving on to the next round gave the press some motive to celebrate the win.
EMELEC (0 pts)
The team is all but eliminated but could play spoiler when they host Deportivo Quito on Thursday.
NACIONAL (8 pts)
Historically a giant of Uruguay and a continental power, the Bolso got their biggest win this year when they went into Argentina two weeks ago against an in-form Banfield side and stole a 2-0 win to put them at the summit of this group. Nacional may clinch next week in the mountains of Cuenca, Ecuador with a win.
BANFIELD (7 pts)
After the Nacional loss, the Argentines fell to Godoy Cruz in domestic league play but has since rebounded with a hard-fought, emotional 3-2 win over Gimnasia on Saturday in the Clausura. El Taladro travel to Mexico this week to try and close in on a ticket to the Round of 16.
MORELIA (4 pts)
Veteran striker Jared Borgetti gave his side its first win of Libertadores with a brace against Cuenca two weeks ago. The Monarcas will need to be inspired when facing Banfield on Wednesday at home because anything other than a win will dent any hopes of moving on.
DEPORTIVO CUENCA (3 pts)
The Ecuadoreans need a miracle to topple their in-form counterparts in this group and that starts with a visit by Nacional next week.
VELEZ SARSFIELD (10 pts)
The Argentines appear to have a pass into the next phase locked up after an inspiring display by midfielder Maxi Morales that gave them a 2-1 win over Chile's Colo Colo last week. Velez are the team with the most points in the tournament and will be tested heavily in their visit to Brazil against Cruzeiro.
CRUZEIRO (7 pts)
A Raposa are stacked with talent in strikers Kleber, Wellington Paulista and Thiago lighting it up as as well as Jonathan and Gilberto providing a rock-steady back that also push up for some offensive assistance and Fabinho orchestrating the side. The home match against Velez has to be the game of the week.
COLO COLO (4 pts)
The Chilean outfit is not as bad as its record; the problem is that Velez and Cruzeiro are better equipped for the tournament. Colo Colo have a chance to possibly reignite their dimming hopes to advance if they can steal a win in Venezuela next week and hope for Velez to top Cruzeiro, setting up a possible (salivating) showdown with the Brazilians at home in two weeks time.
DEPORTIVO ITALIA (1 pt)
The Venezuelan side just weren't up to par with this group, having three losses so far.
UNIVERSIDAD DE CHILE (7 pts)
La U are tops in their country's league and tops of this group, even without counting on influential captain and goalkeeper Miguel Pinto, who's been out for most of the campaign due to injury. A clash next week against Flamengo should be a beauty.
FLAMENGO (6 pts)
The Mengao have revenge on their minds for next week's home tie against La U and fans will expect nothing less than a win to give their side a much-needed boost and a top spot of the table with two matches left. Even with the off-the-pitch distractions, Adriano has been in form as has Vagner Love, on loan from CSKA Moscow.
UNIVERSIDAD CATOLICA (3 pts)
The Chileans didn't do themselves any favors by tying at home last week against Caracas but give credit to the Venezuelans, who held their own and even hit the post three times in the dying minutes.
CARACAS (2 pts)
Noel Sanvicente, Los Rojos manager for about a decade, shocked fans when he abruptly resigned last weekend after citing differences with the club's board.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
Libertad v. Lanus, 7:15ET
Juan Aurich v. Estudiantes de la Plata, 9:30ET
Cruzeiro v. Velez Sarsfield, 6:30ET
Monterrey v. Sao Paulo, 8:50ET
Internacional v. Cerro, 8:50ET
Morelia v. Banfield, 11:10ET
Corinthians v. Cerro Porteno, 6:15ET
Emelec v. Deportivo Quito, 8:30ET
Once Caldas v. Nacional, 10:45ET
What do you think about the groups? Surprised at who's about to advance? Disappointed in other teams? Share your thoughts below.