Copa Lib knock-out stage: runners 'n' riders

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Football lovers around the world, the group phase of Copa Libertadores – South America’s Champions League – is over, and the knockout phases begin in earnest tomorrow (Tuesday) at Lanus. So let’s preview the clashes in the ‘round of 16’ with the sharpest predictions you’ll find anywhere. Well, maybe...

CA Lanús (ARG) vs Atlas (MEX) (Tue Apr 29, Tue May 6)
The only undefeated squad at the Libertadores, Lanús should keep their record through this round: despite finishing atop their group, Atlas haven’t been impressive. Besides, if the Argentinians manage to stop fellow countryman Bruno Marioni, they’re halfway through.

LDU Quito (ECU) vs Estudiantes LP (ARG) (Tue Apr 29, Wed May 7)
The Ecuadorians have been trying for some years, displaying a fair share of good football (as in this year’s 6-1 rout of poor Arsenal) but tend to bottle it at the last minute. Estudiantes will repeat the dose in this tournament.

Boca Juniors (ARG) vs Cruzeiro (BRA) (Wed Apr 30, Wed May 7)
The game of the round: one of Brazil’s best outfits against the defending champions, who seem to always do the job when it’s needed. Cruzeiro have the tournament’s top scorer, eight-goal Bolivian Marcelo Moreno, but Juan Roman Riquelme’s boys will somehow squeeze through – in spite of, Maradona will say, coach Carlos Ischia.

CF América (MEX) vs Flamengo (BRA) (Wed Apr 30, Wed May 7)
Life without miracle-worker Joel Santana – who saved them from relegation in the last nine games in 2005 but has now taken over from Carlos Alberto Perreira in charge of South Africa – is a mystery for Flamengo. Their first challenge is to shoot down the Mexican Eagles, always a tough opponent up there. But America have had better teams, so the Brazilians will escape this one.

Santana: "Tickets, money, passport, iPod, something to read on the plane..."

San Lorenzo (ARG) vs River Plate (ARG) (Wed Apr 30, Thu May 8)
My fellow blogger Daniel “Argie Bargy” Neilson can tell you more about this all-Argentine clash, but my feeling is that River Plate will send the roller-coaster San Lorenzo off the rails. They won’t be able to hold Sebastian Abreu, Falcao Garcia and the rest of River’s artillery, which tops the tournament chart with 14 goals.

Atlético Nacional (COL) vs Fluminense (BRA) (Wed Apr 30, Tue May 6)
The Brazilians had the first round’s best campaign, playing some very nice football. But they’re rather inexperienced in Libertadores – unlike Atlético Nacional, who will use the Atanasio Girardot stadium’s “Welcome to Hell” factor to scare the visitors. Still, I’d guess Fluminense will survive.

Nacional (URU) vs São Paulo FC (BRA) (Wed Apr 30, Wed May 7)
Adriano is the only remarkable thing about São Paulo, who will have to overcome the painful State Championship defeat to Palmeiras to beat a Uruguayan side always fierce at home. It’s gonna be an even one, but São Paulo will prevail.

Santos FC (BRA) vs Cúcuta Deportivo (COL) (Thu May 1, Thu May 8)
Cúcuta aren’t a surprise package any more: they made the semis last year and these teams have already clashed in the group phase, with a draw on the opening day and a last-minute Santos win in the last game. It’s time now for skilled Cúcuta to beat the Vila Belmiro squad and advance.