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Estudiantes La Plata physically arrived for their Copa Libertadores match against Cruzeiro at Belo Horizonte, but they didn't actually "show up," per se. The 2009 champions and possible favorites for this year's Copa Libertadores crown were absolutely stunned as they were destroyed 5-0.
Cruzeiro's first goal came in the opening minute, off an unfortunate deflection. While the goal was lucky, it was obvious that Estudiantes let the goal take their fight away instead of inspiring them to fight harder for the win. The opening seconds of the match would actually be the high point of the day.
Veteran playmaker Roger scored the second goal in the 17th minute, and it was obvious at that point that Estudiantes were completely disinterested in the game. Roger's defender made basically no effort to stop him from shooting in an absolutely comical display. Cruzeiro would go on to score three more times, embarrassing the defending Argentinian champions. Still, bad defending or not, Cruzeiro's No. 10 Walter Montillo had an absolutely fantastic game.
Elsewhere, defending champions Internacional were the victims of an absolute heartbreaker, dropping two points thanks to a 90th minute equalizer from Emelec. New signing Mauro Bolatti scored what appeared to be a sure winner in the 80th minute, heading in a goal off of a corner kick, but the lead was not to last. Emelec scored an equalizer at the death, also off of a set piece, from an absolutely brilliant header by Fernando Gimenez.
Across the rest of South America last night, Jaguares de Chiapas defeated Jorge Wilstermann, San Martin easily defeated Once Caldas 3-0, and Chilean sides Universidad Catolica and Universidad Española played to a thrilling 2-2 draw.
We liked Copa Libertadores so much on Tuesday that we thought we'd come back and do it again on Wednesday. Tonight features a couple of big time matchups with teams that we could very easily see in the knockout stages of the competition. Emelec vs. Internacional and Cruzeiro vs. Estudiantes are the biggest matches on a loaded Wednesday night card with a variety of start times, meaning you can easily catch at least parts of four matches if you want to.
Internacional are the defending champions, as thanks to the exposure that their young stars got in Copa last season, they were snatched up by European clubs for a lot of money. Sandro, Taison, and Giuliano are all gone, replaced by up and coming youngsters as well as a couple of Argentinian players with a European pedigree, Mario Bolatti and Fernando Cavenaghi. They face a tough Emelec team who had a superb goal differential in Ecuador last season. They lost their leading scorer Jamie Ayovi to Mexican side Toluca, but they're still a talented team who should provide a stiff challenge.
Cruzeiro, a team loaded with talented young players, take on Estudiantes, the 2009 champions, in the night cap. Estudiantes got off to a great start in the 2011 Clausura in Argentina with a win, while Cruzeiro are currently playing in one of Brazil's weaker state championships ahead of the Brasileiro. Like Emelec, Cruzeiro lost their leading scorer in Jonas, but Andre Lima and a slew of youngsters remain, giving them plenty of firepower. The best matchup of the night might be between Estudiantes winger Enzo Perez and Cruzeiro's fullbacks. Perez is immensely talented and probably off to Europe soon enough, but unfortunately for Cruzeiro and other teams in Copa Libertadores and Argentina, Perez is an Estudiantes player for the time being.
Wednesday night schedule:
Union Española vs. Universidad Catolica: 4:45 pm ET
Emelec vs. Internacional: 8:00 pm ET
Once Caldas vs. Universidad San Martin: 9:15 pm ET
Jaguares de Chiapas vs. Jorge Westermann: 9:15 pm ET
Cruzeiro vs. Estudiantes: 10:00 pm ET
Club America got exactly the result they were looking for at Estadio Azteca tonight, defeating Club Nacional 2-0 to take all three possible points to start their Copa Libertadores campaign. Though they should have scored more than twice, America will take wins any way they can get them. They're in an extremely difficult Group 3 that includes Nacional, Fluminense, and Argentinos Juniors, so they will need all of the points they can scrape up. Tonight, Vicente Vuoso and Memo Ochoa were America's best players, aiding in that cause considerably.
Vicente Sanchez got America off to the great start they were hoping for, scoring the opener in the 3rd minute. America hasn't seen great production from forwards not named Vicente Vuoso in quite some time, so it was nice for the Super Eagles to get one of their other strikers on the score sheet. Sanchez's finish was a nice one, as he poked home Miguel Layun's low pass.
The second goal was scored by Vicente Vuoso, who blasted in a nice shot from outside the penalty area. Vuoso has been America's best forward, save for a couple of poor performances, but tonight's goal sealed the win for his team and should only boost his confidence going forward. Vuoso could have had a couple more goals were he truly on top form, but his one goal and the fact that he was very dangerous throughout the match make today's performance a success.
Additionally, Memo Ochoa was fantastic in goal for America, making a number of solid saves and showing great command of his penalty area. His standout moment was in the first half, when he made a stunning reactionary kick save.
With the win, America finish round one in first place in Group 3, ahead of Fluminense and Argentinos Juniors, who drew their match.
Club America have gotten off to exactly the kind of start they might have dreamed about in their Copa Libertadores clash against Club Nacional, with unlikely scorer Vicente Sanchez netting the goal. America has struggled to find a consistent, productive partner up top for star striker Vicente Vuoso, so they will be relieved to see one of the other forwards show that Vuoso is not the only striker on the Super Eagles squad with a nose for goal and a finishing touch.
Miguel Layun was the man who provided the assist, putting in a low cross from the right side of midfield. Sanchez did well to pick up the ball and finish past Leonardo Burian at a very narrow angle, putting America up 1-0.
For those hoping to see up and coming young central defender Sebastian Coates in this game, he is unavailable and not in the squad for Nacional tonight. They seriously could have used him on Sanchez's goal. On the other end, Nacional are doing a decent job of putting attacks together, but America's superstar goalkeeper Memo Ochoa has been spectacular early in the game, making a couple of top notch saves already, including one stunning kick save.
San Luis looked to be in position to get at least a point from Club Libertad at home in their Copa Libertadores Group 1 encounter, but faltered in the end to drop all three in the opening match of their Copa campaign. A dead even first half proceeded a second half where Libertad were the better side, culminating in them earning a penalty kick that would ultimately decide the game.
The first two goals were scored on headers from set pieces, with Nicolas Pavlovich and Juan Manuel Cavallo converting. The game failed to produce an open play goal, as the winner was also scored from a dead ball opportunity. In the 53rd minute, San Luis goalkeeper Cesar Lozano hauled down Manuel Maciel in the box, for which Libertad were granted a penalty and Lozano was shown a yellow card. Sergio Aquino stepped up and converted, sealing a vital away win for Libertad.
Elsewhere, Brazilian side Santos FC, loaded with young talent, failed to score and ended up drawing Deportivo Tachira of Venezuela 0-0. It was a serious disappointment for Santos, who had a very strong team at their disposal which included star youngster Neymar, fresh off his domination of the South American U-20 Championships.
San Luis and Club Libertad have come to put on a show tonight in Copa Libertadores, playing a great, even game full of exciting attacking play, intelligent tactics, competent defending, and good finishing. Really, it's been about anything that a fan could reasonably ask from a football game. With the way both teams are playing, it's tough to predict what's going to happen in the second half. Both teams have a very good chance at winning the game.
Both goals were very good headers, scored off of set pieces. Libertad scored the opener off of a 45 yard indirect free kick, headed in by Nicolas Pavlovich as he rose high above the San Luis defense. The home team would equalize just before halftime, with Juan Manuel Cavallo, who entered the game in the 31st minute for the injured Othoniel Arce, doing his best Pavlovich impression, scoring a great header to tie the score up at 1-1.
Elsewhere in Copa Libertadores play, Santos entered halftime of their game with Deportivo Tachira locked up at 0-0. Santos started stars Neymar and Elano, while opting to leave Rodrigo Possebon and Keirrison on the bench. It would be very surprising if Santos dropped points in that match.
After an up and down start to their Copa Libertadores match that saw San Luis create many scoring chances - and hit the woodwork - Club Libertad now have a 1-0 lead thanks to a spectacular set piece goal. An indirect free kick from almost 45 yards from goal improbably lead to a great goal, one which San Luis appeared to have little chance of stopping.
The assist on the goal was provided by Miguel Samudio, who stepped up from his spot in defense to whip in a cross. His floated ball from 45 yards was a surprisingly dangerous one that ended up being directed precisely towards the head of a man San Luis have come up against before, former Necaxa striker Nicolas Pavlovich. The Argentinian forward rose above all of the San Luis defenders and directed a fantastic glancing header into the back of the net, one which Cesar Lozano had no chance of saving.
Velez Sarsfield did not bring their A game in the first 35 minutes of their Copa Libertadores match against Caracas, but they turned it on at the end and coasted to a 3-0 win, thanks to a couple of ridiculous golazos, a penalty kick, and a red card.
New Velez signing Guillerme Franco, a Mexican international who spent last season at West Ham, was injured in the opening minutes and had to be subbed off in the 6th minute of play, a bad blow for the hosts. They would get some help five minutes later though, as Angelo Peña was shown a straight red card for a bad challenge.
It took a while for Velez to get going, but once they did, they were the much better side. David Ramirez had the first great opportunities of the night, but somehow manage to squander them both as part of two of the unluckiest misses you'll ever see. Making a great run from midfield, Martinez had a powerful header saved, then hit the post on the rebound. On almost any other day, he would have scored either chance.
Velez finally opened the scoring just before halftime when Maxi Moralez, arguably Velez's best player, hit an absolute screamer into the back of the net from 25 yards following a corner kick. It was a tough blow to Caracas, who had done well with ten men to that point.
Ramirez would redeem himself for his misses in the second half, scoring one goal and setting up another. The goal that he scored was an absolute stunner from about 20 yards, and he drew a stone cold penalty just minutes later, which was converted by Juan Manuel Martinez, taking the score to 3-0 in favor of Velez.
The Argentinians will be favorites to take this relatively soft group, though Universidad Catolica of Chile could potentially give them problems.
Elsewhere, in Group 7 action, Deportes Tolima, the team that knocked Corinthians out of the competition, notched a 1-0 win over Brazilian side Guarani.
Caracas were doing well with ten men in their Copa Libertadores match against Velez Sarsfield, but Maxi Moralez scored a goal just before the stroke of halftime that might have affected their morale significantly. Down 1-0 at halftime, on the road with ten men, Caracas have it all to do to get back into the match and secure any kind of positive result.
The goal came off of a corner kick, but not in the traditional sense. On the corner, the ball came out to Moralez, who was sitting outside of the penalty area, 25 yards from goal. He took an absolute rip and smoked the ball into the top corner at the near post, giving Caracas goalkeeper David Gonzalez absolutely no chance to make a save. It was incredible that the ball didn't rip straight through the net. Since it didn't, it bounced about 10 yards out of the goal once the net couldn't go backwards any further. It was an insanely powerful and insanely precise strike.
Sadly, that goal was probably lights out for Caracas. Velez weren't playing that well up until about the 35th minute, so it seems a bit harsh that they're totally out of the match, but a red card and a wonder strike will do that to you.
Velez Sarsfield midfielder David Ramirez did all of the hard things right. Average players don't know exactly how to time deep runs from midfield into the penalty area. Despite his brilliance on the run and his being in the exact right place at the exact right time, the Copa Libertadores match between Velez and Caracas is still 0-0. How? I'm still asking myself exactly that. My only explanation is that David Ramirez is the unluckiest man in the world.
Ramirez's inability to score was so unbelievable, the Fox Sports Español camera operators, announcers, and producers can't stop zooming in on his face, talking about him, and showing the replay over and over and over. Late in the first half, around the 33rd minute, Ramirez made a spectacular near post run from midfield, on the left side of the penalty area. He hit a cross with a powerful header, which was incredibly saved by David Gonzalez. The rebound fell to Ramirez and he hit a great first time volley, only to strike the post. Somehow, two extremely clear cut chances managed to not result in goals.
This match has not lacked in eventfulness, as Martinez's failure to score only added to the drama previously created by injuries and red cards. Velez have already had to substitute off new signing Guillerme Franco, a Mexican international who previously played for West Ham United in England, due to injury. Not long after that, Caracas were reduced to ten men as Angelo Peña was shown a straight red card in the 11th minute.
But yes, despite all that, the score is somehow still 0-0.
Last week saw the kickoff of the Copa Libertadores group stages with one match, but they kick off properly this week with a full slate of games. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all feature great matches, with tonight's fixture between Club América of Mexico and Club Nacional of Uruguay being one of the highlights. America have been a roller coaster of a team this season and will look to bounce back from Friday's league loss to Necaxa, while Nacional will hope their young guns rise to the occasion at Estadio Azteca.
Santos FC are also in action Tuesday, but we're not likely to see the best of their young guns. Paulo Henrique Ganso is yet to return from injury, while Neymar could be rested after returning from the South American U-20 Championships. Still, they'll have plenty of weapons on display. Rodrigo Possebon, Elano, Keirrison, Ze Eduardo, and Arouca all look fit and ready to go. They will be favorites against Deportivo Tachira.
Also in action from Mexico are San Luis, who face a stiff test against Paraguay's Club Libertad. While the Paraguayan outfit has had a fair bit of turnover in recent years, they're still a very talented side capable of giving San Luis all kinds of trouble.
Here's the entire Tuesday schedule for Copa Libertadores:
Deportes Tolima vs. Guarani: 5:30 pm ET
Velez Sarsfield vs. Caracas: 5:30 pm ET
San Luis vs. Libertad: 7:45 pm ET
Deportivo Tachira vs. Santos: Tuesday, 8:15 pm ET
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