Solano set for Universitario debut

BUENOS AIRES - Peru captain Nolberto Solano, who has returned home after 12 years' playing abroad, is set to make his debut for Universitario as the South American Libertadores Cup gets under way in earnest this week.

Universitario visit Libertad, Paraguayan champions four times in a row, on Wednesday as the group stage kicks off in the region's equivalent of the Champions League.

Solano's signing was considered a major coup for Universitario, who have been mired in financial problems and last year struggled to pay their players on time.

Since leaving Peru in 1997, the 34-year-old played for Boca Juniors in Argentina, then had spells with English Premier League clubs Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham United before joining Larissa in Greece.

He is one of the highest-profile South American players to return home since Argentina's Juan Sebastian Veron joined Estudiantes in 2006.

Veron, whose side have also qualified for the group stage, has since had a galvanising effect on his club, helping them win one Argentine title and reach the final of the Copa Sudamericana last year.

"Solano's presence for Universitario is similar to Veron in Estudiantes," warned Libertad coach Javier Torrente.

Of the 18 teams in action this week, none will be under more pressure than Argentina's River Plate who host Paraguay's Nacional in a Group Three match in Buenos Aires on Thursday.

River finished bottom of the Apertura championship in the second half of last year and began this year's campaign by squandering a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw at home to 10-man Colon on Sunday, their first match under new coach Nestor Gorosito.

Nacional progressed to the group stage thanks to an impressive 8-3 aggregate win over Ecuadorean army club El Nacional in a preliminary round tie.

The week also sees two clashes between Argentina and Mexico with San Lorenzo hosting San Luis in Group Eight on Wednesday and Lanus entertaining Guadalajara in Group Six the same evening.

Guadalajara are Mexico's most popular club and the only one not to field foreign players.

Colombian champions America, whose coach Diego Umana once contemplated suicide after his team failed to qualify for a final and has also survived a heart attack, visit their Uruguayan counterparts Defensor Sporting in Tuesday in Group Four.