Copa Libertadores resumes Tuesday, with one of the tournament's big favorites, Cruzeiro, facing a tough away match.
The best action through the early rounds has been in Group 5, where each team has one win and one loss to its name. All of the wins have been by the home side. That should make Defensor Sporting favorites in Tuesday's match against Cruzeiro, but it's tough to bet against the Brazilians, who laid a 5-1 beating on Universidad de Chile in their last game.
Ricardo Goulart scored a hat trick in that game. The 22-year-old rising star will again be the man to watch, along with central defender Dede, who still hopes to crack Brazil's World Cup squad. Defensor's player most worth watching is 19-year-old attacking midfielder Giorgian De Arrascaeta, a regular for the Uruguay Under-20 squad.
Tuesday also sees both Mexican teams in action, as well as a tough trip for Velez Sarsfield, the favorites in Group 1. Santos Laguna, leaders of Group 8, go to Venezuela to take on Deportivo Anzoategui. Leon, currently atop Group 7, might be displaced after they go away to Emelec. Velez get the pleasure of traveling four miles above sea level to take on The Strongest.
Wednesday's best match is probably the apparent battle for second place in Group 2 between San Lorenzo and Unon Española. The Chileans have drawn tougher matches during the first half of their schedule, and will be in good shape going forward if they can get a draw away in Argentina. Atletico Mineiro are also in action on Wednesday, hosting Nacional of Paraguay.
The week's headline attraction arguably takes place Thursday, when Group 6 leaders Gremio host Argentinian side Newell's Old Boys. Gremio have already crushed Atletico Nacional at home and scraped a 1-0 win away to Nacional of Uruguay, while Newell's have split their games, destroying Nacional at home but losing by one goal in Colombia against Atletico Nacional.
Gremio might not be quite as strong as they were before Fernando departed for Shakhtar Donetsk, but the ageless Ze Roberto and Paraguayan international Christian Riveros are filling in just fine. Gremio also have another rising star in Ramiro, a 20-year-old midfielder who scored in his last Copa Libertadores appearance. Newell's, meanwhile, have been inconsistent in front of net since the departure of Ignacio Scocco. Thin on other options, they could give 16-year-old wunderkind Ezequiel Ponce a chance to shine. He's playing regularly in Argentina, but is yet to make his Copa Libertadores debut.
All of Group 3's teams also play Thursday, with leaders O'Higgins hosting Cerro Porteño and Lanus going to Colombia to take on Deportivo Cali. Arsenal and Peñarol continue what looks like a battle for second in Group 8, while Atletico Paranaense need a win over Universitario to keep pace in Group 1.
Schedule (all times ET)
Defensor Sporting vs. Cruzeiro - Tuesday, 6 p.m.
The Strongest vs. Velez Sarsfield - Tuesday, 8:15 p.m.
Deportivo Anzoategui vs. Santos Laguna - Tuesday, 8:15 p.m.
Atletico Nacional vs. Nacional (URU) - Tuesday, 8;15 p.m.
Emelec vs. Club Leon - Tuesday, 10:30 p.m.
Real Garcilaso vs. Universidad de Chile - Tuesday, 10:30 p.m.
San Lorenzo vs. Union Española - Wednesday, 6:45 p.m.
Independiente del Valle vs. Botafogo - Wednesday, 6:45 p.m.
Nacional (PAR) vs. Atletico Mineiro - Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Flamengo vs. Bolivar - Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Zamora vs. Santa Fe - Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Arsenal de Sarandi vs. Peñarol - Thursday, 6 p.m.
O'Higgins vs. Cerro Porteño - Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
Gremio vs. Newell's Old Boys - Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
Universitario vs. Atletico Paranaense - Thursday, 10:30 p.m.
Deportivo Cali vs. Lanus - Thursday, 10:30 p.m.