Monday, July 13, 2015

Semifinal preview – Copa Libertadores

With the Copa América set and done, we are back to club football and as the official calendars want it, the decisive stage of the Copa Libertadores is right upon us. It is semifinal time. By now you will surely know the games, but if not here is a short reminder: River Plate await Paraguay’s Guaraní while Internacional face UANL Tigres from Mexico. Both matchups are quite intriguing and could easily result in a final without the previously dominating nations Argentina or Brazil.

Tigres still have the opportunity to be the first ever non South American team to win the trophy, making it somewhat of a national mission for them. Internacional have other worries right now. Their star players are being chased by European clubs, for example Charles Aránguiz, who German club Bayer Leverkusen has showed interest in. The Brazilians made it clear that they will not sell before the semifinal is over. The transfer window comes at an unfortunate time for all the clubs still present in the competition, since these rumors may also be a distraction for the players and their respective teams. Like that was not enough, the Brazilians are dealing with injury problems to a few important players. Goalkeeper Alisson, defenders Juan and Réver as well as midfielder Eduardo Sasha might be out. We will see who gets back in time for Wednesday’s clash in Porto Alegre.


Brazilian striker Rafael Sobis returns to Porto Alegre with his new team.

A very special story will be written in this semifinal: Rafael Sobis, an Inter legend, returns to the place of his biggest victories. In 2006 and four years later, he won the Copa Libertadores twice with the team that he now faces with his new club Tigres. "It's an important game because it's a Libertadores semifinal. As for the Inter team where I played all my life, this is important, but I want to make history with Tigres”, says the Brazilian striker. He adds what he thinks will be key to advancing: “We showed everyone that we have quality, we have many chances. The mentality must be to think game by game.”

As for the game itself, I expect a very open battle between the two clubs. Naturally you would give the slight edge to the Brazilians, but Tigres have the advantage of playing at home in the second leg.

River Plate celebrated the return to Argentina from Javier Saviola and Lucho Gonzalez last weekend. The game itself did not go according to plan as River dropped two points in the title race by drawing 1-1 with Temperley, in which the contender to be fair rested quite a few starters. Nevertheless, both players will be in the squad for the first semifinal leg against Guaraní.


Javier Saviola (left) and Lucho Gonzalez after the weekend’s disappointing 1-1 draw.

The current holder of the Copa Sudamericana and the Recopa will have to be on their toes against the Paraguayans from Guaraní who enter the game on the best run of the club history. After knocking out teams like Corinthians or Racing Club, they want more. Their leader is 36 year old Julio César Cáceres, who previously played for River himself. “It is a very nice moment for me. It is not easy to reach this stage, but I enjoy it a lot”, the centerback says, only to add: “This year we want to break the ice and get further than ever before, by winning the title. I said to the guys that champions will have their place in history forever.”

While their defense will have to do well to have a chance of advancing, they took a big blow by losing Federico Santander this summer after he signed a contract in Copenhagen to play in Europe. With six goals, the 24 year old was their best goalscorer in the tournament so far.

River Plate have got to be the favorite of this semifinal. They have the better quality players than Guaraní in basically every position. But so did Corinthians and Racing. It might be a little close, but still, I will go with River ending the Paraguayan’s fabulous run.


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