Copa Libertadores semi final preview
We are very close to crunch time in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s answer to the UEFA Champions League. This coming week will see the first legs of the semi-final ties take place, and tensions are bound to be high with all four side so close to the main prize.
River Plate V Lanus
First up on Tuesday night (24 October) is an all Argentine affair as River Plate and Lanus meet in Buenos Aires. River won this competition as recently as 2015, and are within touching distance of making it two continental crowns in just three seasons.
And there is no doubt that it is River who come into this first leg tie as the clear favourites to guarantee a clear advantage prior to the return encounter next week. River’s performance in the last round of the Libertadores was enough to lay down a marker of their intent.
Taking on Jorge Wilstermann of Bolivia, the Buenos Aires giants lost 3-0 away from home in the opener and looked to have one foot in the grave. However, they bounced back in the second leg at home, thrashing the Bolivians 8-0 to see themselves safely though to the final four in fine style.
Lanus, for their part, looked far more shaky as they managed to just about edge their way past 2014 Libertadores champions San Lorenzo. Following a 2-0 defeat in the first leg away from home, they then managed to win by the same score line in front of their own fans to set up a penalty shoot-out, where a 4-2 win took them through.
Lanus will surely need to keep things tight in this first leg, but whether they will be able to do so is another matter entirely. They looked overwhelmed by San Lorenzo, who were one of the surprise packages of this year’s Libertadores, and River are likely to offer a far sterner test.
And looking at the odds for this one, it is clear that the vast majority are backing River to win this one and win comfortably. Lanus are well known for attacking and open football when playing at home, but if they are that at the Monumental they could well be passed off the park – expect River to win comfortably.
Odds: River Plate (1.91), Lanus (4.26), draw (3.28)
Barcelona De Guayaquil V Grêmio
The second game sees Ecuadorian club Barcelona de Guayaquil host Brazilian outfit Grêmio. Barcelona have already seen off current Brazilian league champions Palmeiras, as well as Santos and are now looking to make it a hat-trick against Renato Gaúcho’s men.
It will be no simple task of they are to pull it off, however. Grêmio sit second in the Brazilian league table and, despite being nine points off Corinthians at the summit, have looked like the side best equipped to offer a sustained challenge.
The side may have lost Pedro Rocha to Russian outfit Spartak Moscow, but the spine of the team remains strong, and that must be a concern for the Ecuadorians. Marcelo Grohe in goal, Geromel marshalling the defence, Arthur dictating play in the middle of the park and Luan leading the line means they are a force to be reckoned with in their own right.
Barcelona, however, come into this on a run of worrying form. They have won just won of their last five games, hardly ideal preparation to face a team which has now taken on the mantle of favourites for the Libertadores title at this late stage of the competition.
In Barcelona’s home game, on 18 October, they lost 201 to El Nacioal, and that brings up another concern for the home side. Their home form has not exactly been stellar over recent weeks and there is a significant chance that they will be unable to find the gears slickly and smoothly against a Grêmio side which is a true attacking threat.
As the Brazilian side has focused increasingly on the Copa Libertadores in recent weeks, their domestic form has slipped slightly, and the side have won just two of their last five outings. However, there is no doubting the technical superiority of the Brazilians on paper at least, and if they can play to their capabilities without letting the crowd get to them then they could well leave with the victory.
Neither Palmeiras nor Santos were able to walk away from Ecuador with a win, but Grêmio, fully focused and playing their own open brand of football, have more than a fighting chance. Expect Grêmio to win a narrow and hard fought contest.
Odds: Barcelona (2.72), Grêmio (2.74), draw (3.00)