By DAVID MOSSE
The last time Atletico Nacional and La Equidad met in the Colombian Clausura final back in 2007, Nacional notched a comprehensive 3-0 victory in the first leg and was able to claim the trophy with a scoreless draw at home. But El Verde faces a much different predicament on Saturday (7:30 p.m., GOLTV) after falling, 2-1, in Bogota last week.
Nacional made a dream start when leading scorer Carlos Renteria found the back of the net after seven minutes, but Juan Gilberto Nunez equalized before halftime and Edwin Rivas produced the winner midway through the second half. Renteria will need to be at his very best against what promises to be a bunkered down defense.
In the short history of this rivalry, Equidad actually has a strong record in Medellin with two victories, three draws and only one defeat. Another draw on Sunday would be enough for Los Aseguradores to complete a remarkable postseason run that has seen them knock off Envigado and Deportivo Los Millonarios in impressive fashion.
Here's a look ahead to the other important matches in South America this weekend:
Flamengo vs. Botafogo, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Ronaldinho has shown flashes of brilliance since returning to his home country, but the former World Player of the Year has yet to score against any of Flamengo’s top rivals. He gets another opportunity on Sunday against Botafogo in a fascinating encounter, as Wanderley Luxemburgo’s side is in search of its second victory.
Flamengo has drawn three straight games and was very fortunate to salvage a point last week against Atletico Paranaense. Madson gave the hosts the lead early in the second half before Deivid equalized 10 minutes from time. Luxemburgo will need Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves to be at their best to overcome a difficult opponent.
Ceara vs. Sao Paulo, Sunday, 3 p.m., GOLTV
Paulo Cesar Carpegiani was on the verge of losing his job a few weeks back, but his fortunes have certainly changed, as Sao Paulo is off to a flying start in the Brazilian Championship with four wins in as many games. The catalyst is 18-year-old winger Lucas, who continues to enhance his reputation as a major talent with each game.
Fellow youngster Casemiro deserves plenty of credit as well. The industrious midfielder produced the winner against Atletico Mineiro and also found the back of the net last week in a 3-1 victory over Gremio. Next up is a tricky road fixture against Ceara, but with Dagoberto also in good form, Sao Paulo will be very tough.
Coritiba vs. Internacional, Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Paulo Roberto Falcao appeared to be out of the woods following an impressive win over America two weeks back, but Falcao is under fire again after Internacional drew, 2-2, with Palmeiras at home this past Sunday. The hosts took the lead through an own goal from Marcio Araujo, but Palmeiras overturned matters in the second half.
Leandro Damiao then found the back of the net in stoppage time to salvage a point, but questions must be asked about Falcao’s deployment of Andres D’Alessandro and Oscar as wide midfielders. Both players were visibly uncomfortable, and it remains to be seen which formation Inter will use for this very difficult matchup with Coritiba.
Gimnasia (La Plata) vs. Boca Juniors, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Juan Roman Riquelme suffered through an injury-riddled campaign and also clashed with manager Julio Cesar Falcioni early on. But Riquelme will be in the starting lineup on Saturday when Boca Juniors takes on Gimnasia (La Plata) looking to secure a Copa Sudamericana spot. Riquelme will be counted on to provide the inspiration.
Martin Palermo failed to find the back of the net in his final home game last week, as Los Xeneizes were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Banfield, but Palermo can still wrap up his career in style. Nicolas Colazo supplied Boca’s goal against Banfield and is another dangerous weapon who should benefit from the presence of Riquelme.
River Plate vs. Lanus, Saturday, 2 p.m.
It's been six weeks since River tasted victory in the Clausura Championship, and Los Millonarios find themselves in danger of being relegated heading into the final round of the season. Juan Jose Lopez is considering two changes for Saturday’s crunch-time tie with Lanus with Roberto Pereyra and Mariano Pavone inserted into the first XI.
Pavone and Leandro Caruso would comprise an interesting strike partnership in a more attacking formation, while Erik Lamela will be counted to provide the inspiration. Matias Almeyda has battled injuries in recent weeks, but he is said to be healthy finally and ready to help River establish control in the center of the park.
Velez Sarsfield vs. Racing Club, Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
Velez Sarsfield will celebrate a much-deserved Clausura title on Sunday in front of its home fans amid debate all week in Argentina about whether El Fortin has established itself as the third biggest club in the country. David Ramirez also complained that Martin Palermo’s impending retirement overshadowed Velez’s triumph in the press.
Ricardo Gareca claims he would like to remain with the club for as long as Alex Ferguson has managed Manchester United, and it remains to be seen whether Gareca will field a full-strength side against Racing. Ricky Alvarez and Santiago Silva could be in action, but backups like German Montoya also deserve an opportunity.
Who do you see winning the Nacional-Equidad match? How will the relegation battle in Argentina shake out? Which games have your attention?
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