Sunday, May 8, 2016

Copa Libertadores - Quarterfinal preview

Back on February 2, the Copa Libertadores season started with the first round. Ever since then, we moved through group stages and the round of 16 to now await the quarterfinals of this year's competition. Here are all the previews.

Rosario Central - Atlético Nacional

Atlético Nacional's atmospheric home ground. (Photo: ecbloguer.com)
The best team of the group stages, Atlético Nacional, had a little scare against Huracán, but went through with a little luck at the end of the day (4-2 on aggregate). Going to Argentina in the first leg, I am not sure you can still call them the favourites. Rosario Central, after struggling back home in the league in recent weeks, dominated Grêmio completely and knocked them out 4-0 on aggregate. 

Particularly striker star Marco Rubén is slowly but surely regaining his top form if he ever lost it. Three of the four goals scored by Central in the round of 16 came from him. Nevertheless, Central needs a strong game at home in the first leg to build a good foundation ahead of the difficult travel to Colombia a week later. Can they do it? That is for certain. 

The first leg will be played at the Gigante de Arroyito on May 13, 2:45am CET. Atlético Nacional's home leg will take place on May 20 at the same unfortunate time. 

Prediction: A narrow win for Rosario Central. Their individual class, especially their offense, will make the difference in the end. 

São Paulo FC - Atlético Mineiro

A special night can be expected in São Paulo's Morumbi stadium. (Photo: saopaulofc.net)
An all Brazilian clash sees the two remaining sides of the country face each other. If you are a positive person, you will be happy that at least one team from the large football nation makes it to the semifinals for sure. Whichever way you look at it, São Paulo could not convince too much in the round of 16 against Toluca. After smashing them 4-0 in the first leg, the Mexicans nearly made things exciting again with a 3-1 return win. 

With Jonathan Calleri back in the lineup and the team slowly but surely improving its form, São Paulo will have a chance to get a win over their opponents. However, Atlético Mineiro have been the best Brazilian team so far and managed to knock out Argentina's Racing Club in the past round (2-1 on aggregate). Robinho and Pratto have been brilliant and will look to get on the scoresheet again against their countrymen. 

São Paulo's home game will be played at the Morumbi stadium on May 12 at 2:45am CET. The return leg in Belo Horizonte is scheduled for May 19 at 2:45am CET. 

Prediction: Atlético Mineiro probably have the best shot at winning the competition since their triumph in 2013. They will make it past São Paulo FC to face the winner of Atlético Nacional - Rosario Central.

Independiente del Valle - Pumas UNAM

The Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa is ready for Independiente del Valle. (Photo: enquito.com.ec)
Mexico's lonely survivor is facing a surprise team in the quarterfinals. Stunning title holders River Plate with a 2-1 (aggregate) victory, Independiente del Valle relied on at times spectacular goalkeeping. Noone expected them in the quarterfinals, even less after the tragedies in Ecuador. They do not care about expectations and are one of the every-year surprises in the competition.

Independiente's games have all been low scoring ones, minus a 3-2 win over Atlético Mineiro. Despite that fact, Ecuador's team has one of the competition's top goalscorers in Junior Sornoza. His five goals rank 4th among all players. Pumas counter with a top scorer themselves. Ismael Sosa even managed to find the back of the net six times, one of them in the all important 2-0 win over Deportivo Táchira which sealed a place among the last 8 in South America (2-1 agg.).

The first leg in Quito will be played on May 18 at 2:45am CET. The decisive second match takes place in Pumas' Estadio Olímpico Universitario on May 25 (2:45am CET).

Prediction: Independiente del Valle theoretically have no business being here, yet they are. I am still going with Pumas, mainly due to their home strength in Mexico. You can never count out the odd outsider in the Copa Libertadores though.

Nacional - Boca Juniors

Nacional can hopefully count of their support at the Gran Parque Central. (Photo: nacional.uy)
Uruguay's champion has not reached this round since back in 2009. They have a great matchup on their hands as they face the iconic Boca Juniors. While Nacional have been extremely tough to beat (just one loss when they were in the round of 16 already), they do not win a lot either so far. Two wins in group 2, both against Palmeiras, have been it so far. Two draws were enough to get by Corinthians in the past round (2-2 on aggregate). Once again, the Uruguayans will rely on Nico López up front and Esteban Conde who saved them in Brazil as their last backline.

Boca have not lost a single game yet and come into the quarterfinals on a five-game winning streak. In fairness, their opponents have not been the greatest most recently and Cerro Porteño (5-2 on aggregate) were no real indicator of the team's actual strength. Either way, Carlos Tévez has slowly been finding his form and collected 2 goals and 2 assists in the round of 16. Despite their international success, Boca have tremendous injury trouble, especially in midfield where they lost Nicolás Lodeiro most recently.

It is not sure yet, if the game can be played at the Gran Parque Central due to Boca's away support. If not, the Centenario is ready, but it is clearly not Nacional's home ground. The first leg is being played in Uruguay on May 13 at 0:30am CET. The return leg takes place in Argentina on May 20, 0:15am CET. Yay for somewhat European friendly times!

Prediction: Both teams have played great campaigns for their standards so far and look to make it to the last four. Boca will be favourite, but if Nacional can get a result back home, they know how to defend it. They did not lose any away game yet. One thing that is for certain: it will be close.

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