fausto pinto cruz azul
Atletico Nacional and Velez Sarsfield kick off Tuesday's Copa Libertadores action, with Cruz Azul and Libertad in action later. Boca Juniors, Corinthians and La U also play this week.
Six out of the eight Copa Libertadores Round of 16 ties get underway this week, while the teams that played last week all get a round off. None of the knockout stage ties look like blowouts on paper, and most of the favored teams are the higher seeds, so they start their ties away.
Atletico Nacional vs. Velez Sarsfield
Tuesday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Velez won their group comfortably and they're playing great football domestically, but they might have run into a bad matchup with Atletico Nacional. The Colombian side aren't playing well domestically, but they've been excellent so far in this tournament. The highlight has been their 2-0 home win over Universidad de Chile, and they'll be in a spectacular position to advance if they win while denying Velez an away goal.
Juan Manuel Martinez and Federico Insua have been Velez's most potent scoring options, but they don't rely on anyone and they've been excellent at attacking from all over this season. Atletico Nacional are a completely different story. If Dorlan Pabon isn't scoring, they're probably not winning, but he's the competition's leading scorer. He seems to bring it in every game, so the question for them will be whether or not the hot and cold Macnelly Torres provides him with adequate supply.
Cruz Azul vs. Libertad
Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Cruz Azul has poured more of their efforts into this competition than the league in 2012, and it's cost them. They drew Club America on the weekend to finish in 9th place and miss the Mexican Liguilla playoffs. They should find out whether or not their rearranging of priorities was justified over the next couple weeks. They're underdogs against Libertad, and they will need to win on Tuesday to have a chance to win the tie when they head to Paraguay.
Libertad's strength is in the center of their midfield, and their best player is Victor Caceres, possibly the best central midfielder in South American club football. This is bad news for Cruz Azul, who have been without Gerardo Torrado all year due to injury. Israel Castro and Hector Gutierrez have not been great in the center in his absence. Injuries have also ravaged the Blue Machine's defense this year. If they're going to win this match and make the tie interesting, their forward players will need to pull goals out of nothing. The good news for them is that Christian Gimenez and Emmanuel Villa do this frequently.
Boca Juniors vs. Union Española
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Because they were already qualified for the knockout stages on the final day of the group states, Union Española mailed it in a bit against Junior. Their reward is a date with the best second-placed team in the competition, Boca Juniors, and they're serious underdogs. Boca only finished second because they were in a group with the form team in the competition, Fluminense. They're top of the Argentine Primera and finished with three more points in the group stages than Union Española.
Boca striker Santiago Silva could finally be finding his form after scoring a game-winner on the weekend, but Boca's attack is still likely to go just as far as Juan Roman Riquelme takes them. Their organized midfield and defense will keep them in any game, but if Riquelme isn't on his game, they struggle to score. The same can be said about Union Española and striker Emanuel Herrera, who has carried them domestically and in Copa Libertadores.
Vasco da Gama vs. Lanus
Wednesday, 8:50 p.m. ET
Lanus haven't been great in the Argentine Primera, but they've been excellent so far in the Libertadores. They scored 11 goals in their first five games before losing their final group stage match after they had already qualified for the knockout stages. Vasco are one of the strongest teams in the competition and only finished second in their group on goals scored after finishing even on points and goal differential with Libertad in Group 5.
However, Vasco is without Dede, perhaps the best central defender in South America, due to injury. At the same time, Lanus have added Teo Gutierrez to their potent attack. The Colombian international striker was exiled from Racing Club after he pointed an airgun at a teammate. He could make the bench on Wednesday and could be a huge weapon off the bench. If Vasco denies Lanus an away goal or wins by multiple goals, they'll be in good position with Dede potentially returning for the second leg, but they could also lose the tie on Wednesday without him.
Emelec vs. Corinthians
Wednesday, 8:50 p.m. ET
This looks like the most lopsided and least interesting Copa Libertadores Round of 16 tie on paper. Since Copa Libertadores never makes any sense, Emelec will probably defeat Corinthians by six goals.
This competition is Corinthians' one and only priority this season. They were undefeated in the group stages and won their last match in the competition 6-0. They're a veteran side with strength all the way down the spine and most of their players have been playing together for more than a year now. Emelec has a negative goal differential and no serious star power.
Corinthians have their first choice defense in place, but all of their primary backups are either injured or unavailable. Star youngster Marquinhos was hilariously left at home because the club failed to get his parents' permission for him to leave the country. Emelec's best player, Argentinian veteran Luciano Figueroa, rested at the weekend and the Ecuadorian side will need a big performance from him.
Deportivo Quito vs. Universidad de Chile
Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Sudamericana champions Universidad de Chile got off to a slow start in the Libertadores and looked like they were going to struggle to recover from their offseason sales, but they've rebounded spectacularly. They won their last three group stage matches in the competition and they're coming off a huge 5-0 derby win over Colo Colo.
Deportivo Quito haven't been good domestically this year, but they did very well to get out of a group with Velez, Defensor Sporting and Chivas Guadalajara, in which they were clear fourth favorites entering the group stages. Tiny second striker Matias Alustiza was stunning in their last match, scoring four goals on Chivas. He's also been their leading scorer domestically this season. Deportivo Quito's other key man, captain Luis Saritama, is their biggest creative force and he's been rested in their last two games to ensure that he's fully fit for this match.
La U manager Jorge Sampaoli is among the most astute tacticians in Argentina, and though he normally adheres to a 3-3-1-3 attacking system, he has made alterations based on the situation and could opt for a more sound defense in the first leg of a knockout competition. He has sacrificed playmaker Gustavo Lorenzetti for a more defensive midfield on multiple occasions, but what team he actually fields is anyone's guess.