By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
A full slate of matches is scheduled to bombard fans this week as the group phase of the Copa Libertadores gets underway with 13 scheduled tilts, including the remaining second-leg matches that will determine the last two sides to join the record 40-team set-up.
Defending champions Estudiantes de la Plata, with captain Juan Sebastian Veron, open up their title defense at home against Peruvian side Juan Aurich while Brazil's Cruzeiro–fresh off of their 7-0 rout of Bolivia's Real Potosi last week—travel to Argentina to face a tough Velez Sarsfield.
Here is a quick preview of all matches, most of which will be broadcast on Fox Sports en Espanol:
Universidad Catolica v. Colon de Santa Fe, 5:20PM
Chile's Catolica is in the driver's seat with the away-goal factor in its favor but still trail 3-2 from the first match. But a goal by the Chileans at home in front of a sold-out crowd will spell disaster for Argentina's Colon.
EMELEC v. NEWELL'S OLD BOYS, 9:10PM
Ecuador's Emelec held Newell's to a scoreless draw in Argentina in the first leg two weeks ago and now have the chance to advance with a win at home. But Newell's is coming in on a high after crushing Boca Juniors over the weekend in the Argentine Clausura after scoring three goals in about 20 minutes on their way to a 4-2 win.
CERRO v. DEPORTIVO QUITO, 3:10PM
Former Ecuador national team captain Ivan Hurtado will look to lead his Emelec side to an away win in the Group 5 opener against one of Uruguay's more modest sides in Cerro, who are in the tournament for only the second time in its history.
NACIONAL (Paraguay) v. ONCE CALDAS, 5:20PM
Former Red Bulls manager Juan Carlos Osorio will hope striker Fernando Uribe, who has four goals in the Colombian league's first two games, continues his momentum in Paraguay against Nacional in Group 2 action. The Paraguayans also have their own firepower in Guillermo Beltran who has five goals in the Apertura's first two rounds.
LANUS v. LIBERTAD, 7:40PM
Paraguay's Libertad took care of business at home last week, rallying for a 3-1 win against Venezuela's Tachira to advance. And they're right back at work in Argentina to take on Lanus in Group 4 play. Lanus are coming off of a 6-3 loss to Argentinos Juniors in the Clausura over the weekend although they fielded youngsters.
BOLIVAR v. ALIANZA LIMA, 4:30PM
Bolivar were crowned champions of the preseason Copa AeroSur tournament over the weekend and now set their sights on Peru's Alianza Lima in Group 3. Alianza notched two victories recently against two of its compatriot teams in the high mountains of Peru in an effot to begin to assimilate themselves to conditions in La Paz, Bolivia.
BANFIELD v. MORELIA, 4:30PM
Jared Borgetti can attest at how special games are between Argentine and Mexican sides in Libertadores—this is his fourth tournament. The Mexico national team veteran and his Morelia side are coming off of a three-match win streak in its domestic league and will look to surprise last year's Argentine Apertura champions Banfield in Group 6 play.
VELEZ SARSFIELD v. CRUZEIRO, 6:50PM
Brazil's Cruzeiro won't have it as easy this week as they did last week when they humiliated Bolivia's Real Potosi 7-0 that saw them advance to Group 7 play. The Brazilians travel to Argentina to meet Velez Sarsfield, who at weekend's-end were at the top of the table in the Argentine Clausura after three rounds.
SAO PAULO v. MONTERREY, 6:50PM
In Group 2, a stacked Sao Paulo team, coming off of a 2-1 loss to Robinho and Santos in the Paulista championship, welcome Mexico's Monterrey, last year's Apertura champs, who astonishingly will leave behind seven starters in anticipation of this weekend's clasico match against Tigres.
NACIONAL (Uruguay) v. DEPORTIVO CUENCA, 4PM
Ecuador's Cuenca travelled to Uruguay without its top player from last season, Holger Matamoros, who was declared surplus to requirements after rejecting the club's latest contract. Meanwhile, Nacional will do without its young hotshot, Nicolas Lodeiro, who was sold to Ajax last month, but the base of its team, which made it to the Libertadores semifinals last year, is still intact.
ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA v. JUAN AURICH, 6:15PM
After dispatching San Lorenzo 2-0 in the Argentina Clausura Sunday, Juan Sebastian Veron and his Estudiantes mates were right back at work Monday morning even though manager Alejandro Sabella gave them the day off. Aurich, which spent some serious cash for reinforcements over the off-season, eliminated Mexico's Tecos last week.
CERRO PORTENO v. INDEPENDIENTE MEDELLIN, 6:15PM
Paraguay's Cerro Porteno will be witout veteran striker Cesar Ramirez, who is still nursing an injury, but youngster Pablo Zeballos, who was signed from Cruz Azul to come back home, will look to take over the reins. Colombia's Medellin has reason to believe it could snatch an important away win after seeing off city rivals Atletico Nacional over the weekend.
BLOOMING v. UNIVERSITARIO DE DEPORTES, 8:30PM
Bolivia's Blooming is still waiting on its Argentine striker, Luis Sillero, to see if he recovers from injury in time for its match against Peru's Universitario. La U lost veteran Nolberto Solano, who jetted to England to sign with Leicester City.
What do you think of this week's matches? Glad to see Libertadores back in full swing? Is 40 teams too much or is it never enough? Share your thoughts below.