By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
It's only been four weeks of group-stage competition of the Copa Libertadores, but the tournament has already provided some epic matches and surprising results, as Colombia's Atletico Junior remains perfect after three matches in its group, while Mexico's Jaguares and Venezuela's Caracas are the shock leaders in their respective tables.
Argentine striker Roberto Nanni (pictured above) is the lead scorer at the moment, bagging six goals for Paraguay's Cerro Porteno. Brazil's Cruzeiro boasts the top offense so far with nine goals and none conceded, including a 5-0 whipping of Juan Sebastian Veron and his Estudiantes de la Plata side during the first week of the group phase. Meanwhile, the least-fortunate team is Paraguay's Guarani, sitting at the bottom of its group with no wins, one goal and seven conceded after three matches.
The top match in the tournament to date was in Argentina two weeks ago when Chile's Universidad Catolica overcame a 3-1 deficit with three classy second-half goals, including two in the dying minutes, to snatch a shock win over Velez Sarsfield. Catolica had taken a lead 40 seconds into the match, but the Argentine side responded with tremendous pace before losing a defender to expulsion and succumbing to the Chileans' patience and organization.
Highlights of the comeback and a breakdown of each group is after the jump:
In Group 1, Paraguay's Libertad demolished Peru's San Martin, 5-1, last week in a battle of the top two teams, putting Libertad at the summit with seven points while San Martin sits on six. Colombia's Once Caldas was expected to make some noise, but it looks like some off-season departures by key players is having an effect, judging by its 3-0 shutout loss at home to San Martin in the group opener. Mexico's San Luis is in fourth with a single point and needs a result this week in order to climb back into the race to advance.
Group 2 is led by the only perfect team in the competition, Junior, with its most impressive win coming a few weeks ago in a 2-1 victory at home over Brazil's Gremio, which is second with six points. Peru's Leon de Huanuco and Bolivia's Oriente Petrolero are along for the ride and shouldn't prevent the Colombians and Brazilians from advancing.
It's no surprise that 1985 champions Argentinos Juniors currently leads Group 3 after coming off of an impressive 1-0 away win over Uruguay's Nacional and handling Mexico's America, 3-1, following a hard-fought draw in Brazil against Fluminense. Paraguayan Santiago Salcedo and Argentine Franco Niell are carrying the offensive assignments, but Argentinos is so well-balanced and could go deep in the pool. America took care of business at home as well, notching wins over Flu and Nacional, but the path to advance lies in two away matches in its three remaining tilts. Argentinos lead with seven points with America at six while Flu has two and Nactional with one.
Following a mastpiece in Argentina, U. Catolica was brought back to reality at home by a Caracas side that swooped into town and stole a 3-1 result to grab the top spot in Group 4. The win gives the Venezuelans a good chance to move on and best its 2009 performance, when they finished as quarterfinalists. Catolica and Velez have their work cut out for them if Caracas continues its run.
In Group 5, the pre-tournament hype surrounding Brazil's Santos has subsided a bit with its two draws in two matches. Its away match against Chile's Colo Colo, whom it trails by a point, will determine its avenue of success. Paraguay's Cerro leads the group with five points, though you can't count out Venezuela's Deportivo Tachia, who also has two draws and is one result away from getting into contention.
Mexico's Jaguares was crushed by current champions Internacional of Brazil, but two home wins over Bolivia's Jorge Wilstermann and Ecuador's Emelec have propelled the side to the top of Group 6. The Mexicans need an away result if they are to continue their shock path and will have their chance in Ecuador this week. Inter and Emelec sit on four points, and the Bolivians, who host the champs this week, have zero.
In Group 7, Brazil's Cruzeiro outscored Estudiantes de la Plata and Paraguay's Guarani by a total of 9-0 last month and were held by Colombia's Deportes Tolima to a goalless draw two weeks ago. The Brazilians, top with seven points, will host Tolima, four points, to see if they can run away with the group. Tolima already eliminated another Brazilian giant in the pre-Libertadores stage. Can they get a result in Brazil? Meanwhile, Estudiantes, with six points, has clawed back with victories over the Colombians and away in Paraguay over winless Guarani.
Group 8 could go to any team involved. Argentina's Godoy Cruz and Uruguay giants Penarol are co-leaders with six points, while Ecuador's Liga de Quito, champions in 2008, and Argentina's Independiente, both sit on three. Independiente already has two home losses. Liga and Penarol are forces at home. This group has to be the most balanced and most exciting so far.
Who do you see advancing from each group? What teams have disappointed you? Which group do you think is the most difficult?
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