By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Adriano will get their first taste of this year's Copa Libertadores competition as their sides kick off their campaigns in the third week of action, which will also see former Boca Juniors goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri making his debut with a new team.
Ronaldo, who announced his retirement date yesterday, and Roberto Carlos are geared up for their Corinthians squad that will host Racing Club of Uruguay tomorrow while Adriano, along with strike partner Vagner Love, look to lead Flamengo as they welcome Chile's Universidad Catolica.
Today, "The Duck" Abbondanzieri hopes to make a successful debut with Brazil's Internacional, where he joined just last week after having his contract rescinded with Boca.
Here is a preview of this week's matches:
DEPORTIVO ITALIA v. VELEZ SARSFIELD, 5:30PM
Venezuela's Italia deserved at least a tie in last week's 1-0 away loss to Chile's Colo Colo, who looked lackluster on several occasions but were fairly bested by Italia's veteran Bolivian goalkeeper Jose Carlo "The Cat" Fernandez. Now, in Group 7 play, the Venezuelans host Argentina's Velez, who with a B team topped Independiente over the weekend in the Clausura league to take top spot of the table.
INTERNACIONAL v. EMELEC, 6:50PM
Abbondanzieri is raring to make his Inter debut while his compatriot, Andres D'Alessandro, is still making a recovery from a hairline fracture to the face. Meanwhile, Ecuador's Emelec have three players injured from its 3-3 draw against Manta FC in the Ecuadorean Primera A and have been in Brazil since Friday for their Group 5 tilt.
MORELIA v. NACIONAL DE MONTEVIDEO, 10:10PM
Uruguay's Nacional is hoping to avert a potential crisis by snatching at least a draw in Mexico against Morelia in Group 6. The Uruguayans fell 4-1 to River Plate in the Uruguayan league over the weekend, won't have its Argentine midfielder Angel Morales available for this match and is facing pressure even after their Libertadores victory over Ecuador's Deportivo Cuenca wasn't received with much fanfare. Morelia is coming off of a goalless draw against Toluca over the weekend and boast some heavy South American artillery along with veteran Jared Borgetti.
CRUZEIRO v. COLO COLO, 4:30PM
Both sides are coming off wins in their respective leagues. Cruzeiro took a 3-1 win over rivals Atletico Mineiro while Colo Colo topped Audax Italiano 3-1 in the Chilean championship. Colo Colo's Colombian midfielder Macnelly Torres, a $2.5 million target of Brazil's Botafogo, helped his side top Audax for the first time in four years and will look to continue conducting services in Brazil for the Group 7 contest.
JUAN AURICH v. BOLIVAR, 5:30PM
Peru's Aurich topped local rivals Universitario de Deportes 2-1 in the Descentralizado league on Sunday with several members of Bolivia's Bolivar delegation members in attendance. The Peruvians were organized, controlled most of the match and physically outbid their counterparts in a match that saw two eventual ejections much to the dismay of the Bolivians, all of whom will surely report back to the manager for this Group 3 match.
FLAMENGO v. UNIVERSIDAD CATOLICA, 6:50PM
Adriano, who recently confessed to his desire for an Italy return, has struck up a nice partnership with Vagner Love, who's on loan from CSKA Moskow, but both stars couldn't capitalize in their team's 2-1 loss to Botafogo in the Guanabara Cup semifinals last week. Meanwhile, Chile's U. Catolica have suffered three straight losses in the Apertura and will need a strong Group 8 debut at one of the toughest places to play in the world—the Maracana.
CORINTHIANS v. RACING (Uruguay), 6:50PM
Ronaldo, who's been injured since last month is fit and ready to go now, judging by his recent dance routines at Sao Paulo's Carnival festivities. "O Finomeno" and Roberto Carlos were both rested for Corinthians' goalless draw against Rio Branco on Saturday. Corinthians may also line up 18-year-old Dodo, the much coveted versatile youngster, who is being eyed by Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid. Meanwhile, little-known Racing will look to striker Libert Quinonez for the attack as well as their goalkeeper Jorge Contreras for inspiration, who earlier this month, when asked about the Brazilians stars, said his team "would eat their heads" in this Group 1 match.
MONTERREY v. NACIONAL (Paraguay), 10:10PM
Monterrey, with only one loss in seven matches in the Mexican Clausura, should have all of their stars ready for its Libertadores home opener in Group 2 play unlike its first match when the Rayados deployed a B team in its 2-0 loss at Sao Paulo. Paraguay's Nacional tied Olimpia 0-0 in the local league after suffering two losses prior to that. The Academia opened up their Libertadores campaign with a 2-0 loss at home to Once Caldas.
BLOOMING v. LANUS, 5PM
Lanus is winless in five matches in the Argentine Clausura and has lost its two matches in Libertadores. A visit to Bolivia could be what the Argentines need, on paper at least. The Bolivians are coming off of a 4-0 loss–their second of the tournament– to Libertad in Paraguay last week and are also in desperate need of points in order to have any spirations of advancement. Both squads are in panic mode and this Group 4 match should reflect that.
ONCE CALDAS v. SAO PAULO, 7:10PM
Brazil's Sao Paulo, coming off of a 2-0 loss to rivals Palmeiras in the Sao Paulo state championship on Sunday, visit Colombia's Once Caldas, whose league match was postponed because of a hospital explosion in Tolima where they were to play. Both co-lead Group 2.
UNIVERSITARIO DE DEPORTES v. LIBERTAD, 9:20PM
The summit of Group 4 is at stake in this match between co-leaders Universitario of Peru and Libertad of Paraguay. Universitario has Luis "Cachito" Ramirez in its ranks, a player who wore the Libertad shirt last year and is offering spy's tips to manager Juan Reynoso. On the other side, Libertad boast 21-year-old Rodolfo Gamarra and 22-year-old Pablo Velazquez, both of whom have 7 goals in total between them so far in the tournament.
What do you think of this week's matches? Hope to see Ronaldo lift the Libertadores title? Or will another Brazilian team come out on top? Share your thoughts below.