Corinthians look to Ronaldo to keep Libertadores dream alive
Ladies and gentleman, the Copa Libertadores, South AmericaÃ¢ÂÂs own Champions League, has entered its playoff phase this week and, as it is standard procedure in such life-defining events, we take the dusty crystal ball out of the cabinet to reveal, with undisputed exclusivity (which is more than can be said for the accuracy), the teams which will emerge as winners.
So get ready to call your bookieÃ¢ÂÂ¦ And be prepared to be the first fan to make FourFourTwoÃ¢ÂÂs rich list at the end of the year.
Corinthians (BRA) v Flamengo (BRA)
ItÃ¢ÂÂs the ultimate heavy weight clash, and IÃ¢ÂÂm not talking about Ronaldo and Adriano...
The two most supported clubs in Brazil (more than 60 million fans in total) face off in the most anticipated clash of the year.
AdrianoÃ¢ÂÂs penalty was enough to give Flamengo a 1-0 lead after last nightÃ¢ÂÂs first leg, but Ronaldo, despite not being as hot as last year, is still capable of rising to such an occaision.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Corinthians to overcome the deficit and progress, with Ronaldo scoring.
SÃÂ£o Paulo (BRA) v Universitario (PER)
Hoping to relive the continental glory of 2005, SÃÂ£o Paulo built one of the best rosters in Brazil this year by signing, among others, Marcelinho Paraiba, Cicinho, Cleber Santana and Alex Silva to join ranks with Hernanes, Washington and co.
But it just didnÃ¢ÂÂt click, and coach Ricardo Gomes has had a hard time controlling the team both tactically and in terms of discipline. Yet theyÃ¢ÂÂre going to have enough to get past Universitario, PeruÃ¢ÂÂs most popular team.
The Peruvians did well in the first phase, for a Peruvian side that is, knocking out Lanus of Argentina and finishing the group stage undefeated, taking two wins and four draws from the six matches. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll remember it fondly.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: SÃÂ£o Paulo
Universidad de Chile (CHI) v Alianza Lima (PER)
Another side to emerge from the group stages unbeaten were Chilean outfir Universidad de Chile, who earned three wins and three draws, showing glimpses of fine football in the matches against Flamengo and also in the all-Chilean battles with Universidad Catolica.
The trump cards in coach PelussoÃ¢ÂÂs pack are skilled midfield Montillo and giant centre forward Olivera.
Alianza LimaÃ¢ÂÂs presence in the playoff stage has to be credited to lady luck: they drew one of the weakest groups of the tournament, with minnows Bolivar and Juan Aurich.
Even so, they managed to surprise defending champion Estudiantes, hammering the Argentinians 4-1 in their second match. Expect them to put up a fight against the Chileans too.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Universidad de Chile
Nacional (URU) v Cruzeiro (BRA)
The only clash between two former Libertadores winners promises to be one of the closest meetings of the round.
Nacional made the semis last year; and once again theyÃ¢ÂÂve come up strong to fiercely defend the honor Uruguayan football.
Coach Eduardo Acevedo already spiced up the rivalry by claiming CruzeiroÃ¢ÂÂs defense is slow and that the Brazilian sideÃ¢ÂÂs history doesnÃ¢ÂÂt match his sideÃ¢ÂÂs.
Runner-up in 2009, Cruzeiro kept the same base, in which nutter forward Kleber, the tournament top scorer with seven goals, stands out. This year, however, the team has alternated fantastic exhibitions Ã¢ÂÂ like the 3-0 rout of Velez Ã¢ÂÂ with sloppy performances, like the draw against borderline amateur Deportivo Italia (the only point the Venezuelans scored in the whole tournament).
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Cruzeiro
Internacional (BRA) v Banfield (ARG)
In the only Brazil-Argentina clash of the round, the best defense of the tournament (Internacional, with just two goals conceded) will take on the best attack (Banfield, who have scored 13 goals so far).
It was the attack that triumphed in the first leg, with the Argentineans taking a 3-1 lead into the second leg.
Coached by the Uruguayan Jorge Fossatti, whoÃ¢ÂÂs yet to justify his appointment, the Brazilians rely on their Argentinian trio (keeper Pato Abbonzanzieri and midfielders Guinazu and DÃ¢ÂÂAlessandro) to triumph.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Banfield
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) v C.D. Guadalajara (MEX)
IÃ¢ÂÂd have bet on Velez if by the time I wrote this piece the Mexicans had not rolled over the Argentinians 3-0 in Guadalajara, on Tuesday.
Please note that five regular ChivasÃ¢ÂÂ starters did not play Ã¢ÂÂ theyÃ¢ÂÂre already practicing with the Mexican National Team for the World Cup. Wow. (Should we fear the Sombrero Army that much in South Africa?)
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Chivas (kind of easy, now)
Estudiantes (ARG) v San Luis (MEX)
Another battle that already kicked off Ã¢ÂÂ but this time the Argentineans jumped ahead, as expected.
The defending Libertadores champions cruised to a 1-0 win in Mexico and will just practice back home in the second leg, waiting for the next opponent.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Estudiantes
Libertad (PAR) v Once Caldas (COL)
Libertad became a powerhouse in Paraguay in the last decade, winning six titles and stealing the show from local giants Olimpia and Cerro PorteÃÂ±o.
They have even pulled out some great Libertadores performances Ã¢ÂÂ in 2006, they reach the semis.
This season, Libertad has a younger team, which had a fine tournament start, topping Group 4 with 12 points from a possible 18.
But their first true challenge will be presented by perennial underdogs Once Caldas, who starred in one of the Copa LibertadoresÃ¢ÂÂ greatest all-time upsets in the final of 2004 whey they beat Boca Juniors on penalties.
Dayro Moreno, one of the aces of that team, is back to Manizales. Now coached by Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombians seemed to have found that old black magic again Ã¢ÂÂ they only lost the group leadership to favorite SÃÂ£o Paulo on the last game, selling hard a 1-0 away defeat.
My guess is they will still trick at least one giant this year.
THE NOISE FROM BRAZIL VERDICT: Once Caldas