Two blockbuster clashes are promised this week with all four teams looking to etch their name in the history books with victory in 2011With just four matches separating the semi-finalists from Copa Libertadores glory, South America's premier club competition has undoubtedly reached its do or die stages. The last 16 massacre of Brazil's representatives has left four different countries with representation for the first time in three years, and Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Uruguayan hopes will be high as they watch their heroes go for glory in 2011.
The last four kicks off in earnest on Wednesday evening, when Neymar's Santos welcome Cerro Porteno to Sao Paulo in a repeat of their Group 7 meeting. The following day sees Velez on the move, as they make the short trip across the Rio de la Plata to the Estadio Centenario to play Diego Aguirre's Manya.
Two huge matches, and two ties which could go either way at this stage. Who is arriving in the best form? Which club holds the historical advantage? Which players could prove decisive?
Goal.com takes an in-depth look at the two semi-final clashes, and tries to answer the big questions ahead of the last four, as we preview the teams going head to head in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay over the next two weeks...
SANTOS vs. CERRO PORTENO - WEDNESDAY 21:50*
|Neymar||KEY PLAYER||Jonathan Fabbro|
|HEAD TO HEAD|
|Winners (1962, 63)
||BEST COPA FINISH||Semi-final (6 times)|
|10||NUMBER OF APPS.||32|
|Neymar (4)||TOP SCORER 2011 (GOALS)||Roberto Nanni (7)
|State champions||DOMESTIC FORM||Mid-table|
|FAN PASSION RATING|
|More magic from their mercurial teenage legion||WHAT TO EXPECT
||A cautious performance, with punishing counterattacks|
There is no doubt that the Brazilians will start as hot favourites for this clash, but that is a disservice to a Ciclon team which has proved themselves to be extremely tricky customers during this year's Copa Libertadores campaign. Leo Astrada's team beat the Peixe into second place during the group stage, and despite lacking the stars of their opponents have a strong team capable of tenacious defending and outstanding offensive potential at times.
Santos have been efficient throughout the Copa, but have failed to shine as many believed they would, despite boasting the likes of Neymar, Elano, Ze Eduardo and Ganso in their starting XI - although the number 10 will be unavailable through injury for both legs. Too often they have seemed reliant on the magic of young Neymar, a big weight for a 19-year-old to carry on his shoulders. Still, they are a strong outfit more than capable of taking down the Paraguayans and making the final for the first time since 2003.
Cerro meanwhile have based their success on strong defence, with Diego Barreto marshalling the team from between the posts with great aplomb and just one goal beating him in the knockout stages so far. Going forward the team work brilliantly on the counterattack, and typically line up with Roberto Nanni as a lone striker supported by the creative trio of Juan Manuel Lucero, Jonathan Fabbro and Ivan Torres.
Look out for 17-year-old sensation Juan Iturbe, who has shown himself to be a quality impact player coming off the bench in the second half.
PENAROL vs. VELEZ SARSFIELD - THURSDAY 21:50*
|Alejandro Martinuccio||KEY PLAYER||Maxi Moralez|
|HEAD TO HEAD|
|Winners (5 times)
||BEST COPA FINISH||Winners (1994)
|38||NUMBER OF APPS.||10|
|Juan Manuel Olivera (5)||TOP SCORER 2011 (GOALS)||Maxi Moralez (5)
|Top three, but losing ground
|FAN PASSION RATING|
|Bucket-loads of passion and fight in front of their own fans||WHAT TO EXPECT
||An attacking display with goal-scoring taking centre-stage|
Two of the continent's heavyweights take the field on Thursday, with a classic cup tie very possible between two teams with ample attacking potency. Velez will justifiably start as favourites after crushing victories over Liga de Quito and Libertad, but as Internacional will testify, it is very dangerous indeed to write off the Manya either home or away.
Looking over the Velez side, it is very hard to find weaknesses. Their defence is unspectacular but consistent, and further up the field they can boast a quality that few sides in South America can match. Victor Zapata, Ricky Alvarez, Maxi Moralez, Santiago Silva and Juan Manuel Martinez have all proved themselves to be top-drawer competitors in 2011, and Penarol will have to be on top form to deal with an attack which has scored 12 goals in four knockout fixtures.
The Carboneros' hopes meanwhile rest largely on the form of attacking duo Alejandro Martinuccio and Juan Manuel Olivera. The Argentine-Uruguayan partnership has been electric in the last few matches, and is more than capable of breaking the Fortin open and springing a surprise. The effect of the Montevideo crowd should not be under-estimated either. Up to 60,000 people will be in the Estadio Centenario for this clash, making the stadium a gold and black inferno for the visitors who will have to deal with a deafening noise from the home stands.
The buzz going around from Manya fans on Twitter promises that Thursday's entry into the ground will be 'the best welcome in history'. Velez, you have been warned...
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