Copa Libertadores semi-final second leg preview
It is now tantalisingly close to the finishing line, as the return encounters in the Copa Libertadores – the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League – take place this week.
Lanús V River Plate
First up is the all-Argentine contest, as Lanús host River Plate this Tuesday evening (31 October) looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg. Lanús have turned their La Fortaleza home into just that – a fortress – and their tight, compact ground with a deafening atmosphere could just be their ticket through to the final.
River, however, showed their ambitions in the first leg last week, and will surely be kicking themselves that they did not secure a larger advantage following a fine performance in front of their own fans. Nevertheless, they kept a clean sheet, meaning that, for River at least, contending with away goals will not be a factor in this one.
Lanús, for their part, are trying to make history as they look to book their place in the final of the continent’s premier club competition for the first time. Yet following five wins on the bounce they have now lost their last two – neither at home, it must be said – and coach Jorge Almiron must ensure morale has not dropped before arguably the greatest game in the club’s history.
Lanús have won their last three home games and conceded a single goal in the process, and Almiron will need that kind of form to be reproduced on Tuesday night if he is to steer his side through what is undoubtedly a hugely tricky tie. River have now won their last two matches against this opponent and, history aside, will be confident of reaching their second Libertadores final in just three years, especially after suffering the ignominy of falling at the round of 16 stage last year.
With the tournament’s end now in sight, the priority for both of these clubs is now clear. River have given themselves a slender advantage following the opening game last week at the Monumental, but whether it will be enough is another matter entirely.
Lanús are more than capable of hurting their more esteemed opposition and, given home advantage and a sell-out crowd, may consider themselves capable of getting the job done. If they can keep it tight at the back and not concede what could be a pivotal away goal, expect Lanús to make it through to their first ever Copa Libertadores final.
Odds: Lanús (2.50), River Plate (2.75), draw (2.87)
Grêmio V Barcelona De Guayaquil
On the following evening (1 November), Brazilian outfit Grêmio welcome Ecuadorian club Barclona de Guayaquil. With Grêmio leading 3-0 from the first leg last week, it would now take a minor miracle – or a major disaster, depending on your point of view – for the Brazilians not to make it through to the final.
In addition, Grêmio’s recent home form has in the Copa Libertadores has been faultless. Renato Gaúcho’s side has won their last five in a row, and it is indeed difficult to envisage a different outcome in this one.
The Brazilians have also scored in nine of their last 10 outings in the continental competition and, with Brazil forward Luan scoring twice in the first leg away from home, looks to be in the kind of form which has seen him linked with both a move to Europe and a place in the national squad. With their comprehensive advantage secured from the first leg, this should be a fairly comfortable stroll for Grêmio and, as their visitors look to chase the game, the Brazilians could well pick them off with a couple more well taken goals.
On their day, Grêmio play arguably the most aesthetically pleasing football in the Brazilian league, although their form in the second half of the campaign has faltered somewhat as they have concentrated almost solely on their continental exploits. The side has won just one of their last five league matches, and have slipped down to fourth, eight points off league leaders Corinthians.
It is not only their attack which is a threat. Grêmio have kept three clean sheets in a row in the Libertadores, and Barcelona will have a job breaking that door down just once, never mind at least three times.
In short, it is difficult to see anything other than a routine victory for the Brazilian side on home soil in this one. Grêmio have made the continental competition a priority this season and, so far at least, it is paying rich dividends – expect Renato Gaúcho and his players to see themselves safely through to the final with a routine victory.
Odds: Grêmio (1.67), Barcelona (5.30), draw (3.62)