By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
All 12 teams currently contending for the spots available for the group phase of the Copa Libertadores are still very much alive heading into this week's second-leg matches, with Argentina's Colon, Peru's Juan Aurich and Venezuela's Deportivo Tachira enjoying first-leg victories while the other three remaining matches were deadlocked in draws.
Following the conclusion of this week's second legs, group phase matches pitting 40 teams will begin next Monday with the tournament lasting through August with a break during the World Cup. Estudiantes de la Plata and South American Player of the Year Juan Sebastian Veron have their work cut out to repeat as champions as many squads look strong enough to dethrone the Argentine side.
Here is a preview of this week's games, which will be broadcast on Fox Sports En Espanol (times are EST):
LIBERTAD v. DEPORTIVO TACHIRA (0-1), 6:10PM
Libertad fielded a mostly reserve squad in their debut match of the Paraguayan Apertura over the weekend in a 1-0 loss to Guarani but Argentine manager Javier Torrente was assessing which players will be able to cover defender Adalberto Roman, who suffered a knee injury. Tachira, whose lone goal by Armando Maita last week secured the win despite being down a man for the final 20 minutes, is on a momentum after two consecutive wins in the Venezuelan league. Former Red Bulls midfielder Jorge Rojas saw no action in the first leg but should see some time on the pitch in Asuncion, given his experience.
CRUZEIRO v. REAL POTOSI (1-1), 6:50PM
Cruzeiro were on their way to snatching a win in the heavens of Potosi, Bolivia before Argentine veteran Robert Carlos Correa equalized in the 88th minute. Correa entered the match more than midway through the first half, changing the face of the match. The Brazilians also faced an uphill battle the moment before Correa's introduction when Gilberto was sent off for a flagrant elbow. The Bolivians weren't able to capitalize being up a man with Cruzeiro striker Kleber showing a tireless work rate that kept Potosi at bay in some key moments. Cruzeiro fans will also be curious to see where Kleber's head is at in the second leg—the striker had a pending contract with Portugal's Porto ripped up after he asked for higher wages following a medical with the club.
ESTUDIANTES TECOS v. JUAN AURICH (0-2), 9:20PM
Panama striker Luis Tejada, who had a brief 2007 stint with current MLS champs Real Salt Lake, bagged a brace for Aurich as they toppled Tecos, whose defense, including former Red Bulls defender Diego Jimenez, were startled by the pace of the Peruvian team. Aurich could have easily made it a 3-0 or 4-0 result but the lack of finishing skills condemed them to a lead that won't be possible for the Mexicans to overcome in Guadalajara. Tecos manager Miguel Herrera, livid over some non-calls on various hard fouls in the first leg, became more agitated with the Peruvian outfit this week when he noticed an Aurich staff member dressed in Mexican attire spying on their training sessions.
RACING (Uruguay) v. JUNIOR (2-2), 6:10PM
Junior Barranquilla needed an agonizing 90th-minute equalizer by Martin "The Bull" Arzuaga in a high-energy match between two of the lesser-known teams on the continent but was still reminiscent of the classic Colombia-Uruguay matches, with two red cards and intense marking on both sides. Libertadores newbies Racing are in the driver's seat with the away goals advantage in their favor but will need to stave off the likes of veteran Giovanny Hernandez and Paulo Cesar Arango in the midfield.
NOTE: Next week's Emelec-Newell's Old Boys and Universidad Catolica-Colon de Santa Fe second-leg matches will be played next week.
What do you think of this week's matches? Who do you see moving on? Share your thoughts below.