By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
Now that the shock has worn down from four Brazilian teams being ousted in the Copa Libertadores Round of 16, which concluded last week, the focus is now on the remaining quarterfinalists, which represent seven nations. The tournament doesn't have the usual overflow of Argentine or Brazilian teams at this stage yet each country still has a representative not only in contention but also considered favorites to lift the continent's most coveted trophy.
While half of the pool have already lifted South America's prestigious software on at least one occasion, the other half have provided enough chemistry, grit and smart soccer to be here and make this year's edition one of the more competitive campaigns that could result in further surprises as the Copa moves on into the semifinals at the end of the month.
Below is a quick synopsis of both first-leg matches, which will be broadcasted on FSE:
Penarol (Uruguay) v Universidad Catolica (Chile) 6:30pm
The Uruguayans suffered a 1-0 derby loss in its league over the weekend to archrivals Nacional but the five-time Libertadores champs have the tools to regroup although manager Diego Aguirre is still shuffling around with possible lineup changes. Young netminder Sebastian Sosa was a force in the Manyas' series against defending champs Internacional but he may have to put in overtime as Carlos Valdez was ruled out because of injury while veteran Dario Rodriguez is exhausted and nursing some strains. Meanwhile, Argentine winger Alejandro Martinuccio, whose stock rose in the Inter series, could give the Chileans trouble as he links up with Juan Manuel Olivera, who has four goals in the competition.
On the flip side, la U have their own firepower in Lucas Pratto, one of the top scorers in Libertadores with six goals so far. Unfortunately, the Chileans will be missing injured backline rock David Henriquez so manager Juan Antonio Pizzi may insert Alfonso Parot or Adan Vergara, with the latter being considered mostly because of his height, to combat Olivera's presence. The Chileans trained at the famed Centenario stadium yesterday and lamented the field's poor conditions.
Once Caldas (Colombia) v Santos (Brazil) 8:50pm
Juan Carlos Osorio studied Santos' weekend Paulista match against Corinthians and swears his team can surprise the Brazilians despite a collective talented side that includes teenage superstar Neymar, Ze Eduardo and Elano. Caldas, who took home the Copa in 2004, still have five players from that year, including hotshot Dayro Moreno and Arnulfo Valentierra, who scored against Santos in the quarterfinals that year. Meanwhile, striker Wason Renteria has been a terror for opposing defenders and has four goals overall.
For the lone Brazilian representative, young playmaker Ganso won't be counted on for the rest of the season after picking up a thigh injury in the Corinthians tilt. The Brazilians also arent' too crazy about playing at high altitude and their defense have looked somewhat fragile but luckily they're playing a Colombian side that suprisingly hasn't tasted victory at home in the competition yet.
Who takes the first legs tonight? Can Osorio & Co. surprise again? Will U Catolica grab another road win
Share your thoughts below.