National rivalry returns for Libertadores final

BUENOS AIRES - Juan Sebastian Veron is set to return for Estudiantes against Cruzeiro in a Libertadores Cup final first leg overshadowed by a deadly outbreak of H1N1 flu in Argentina.

The outbreak of the flu strain has claimed 60 lives, mainly in the province of Buenos Aires where La Plata, home city of Estudiantes, is situated and sparked a state of emergency with almost all public events including sports suspended.

But football appears oblivious to the dangers, with the South American Football Confederation deciding it would proceed, just as last weekend's final matches in the Argentine Clausura championship also went ahead despite the outbreak.

The final of South America's equivalent to Europe's Champions League, the continent's biggest money-spinning football tournament, brings together teams from its big two nations, Argentina and Brazil, vying to succeed 2008 champions LDU Quito of Ecuador.

The 34-year-old Veron is Estudiantes' link with a glorious past when his father Juan Ramon was their outstanding player as they won the trophy three times from 1968 to 1970.

The former Lazio, Manchester United and Inter Milan midfielder missed the second leg of the Argentine side's semi-final victory over Nacional of Uruguay last week with a leg muscle injury.

Veron has been preparing with the team this week and will be the danger man for Cruzeiro, his quick thinking often sparking moves like the one that led to the only goal of the semi-final first leg in La Plata two weeks ago.

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Striker Mauro Boselli, who scored twice in the 2-1 win in the second leg in Montevideo that gave Estudiantes their 3-1 aggregate victory, is the other main threat as the tournament's joint top scorer with a tally of seven.

The teams have already met in this year's competition in the group stage with Cruzeiro winning 3-0 at home in Belo Horizonte and Estudiantes beating them 4-0 in La Plata, but the final is less likely to produce so many goals.

Twice champions Cruzeiro, who overcame Gremio 5-3 on aggregate in their all-Brazilian semi-final, are a quick, skilful counter-attacking side whose principal weapons are incisive winger Kleber and lanky striker Wellington.

Estudiantes must not allow Cruzeiro, who were concerned about the health risks in coming to Argentina, to take the lead as they did in both legs against Gremio against the run of play.

The second leg of the final is in Belo Horizonte on July 15.