By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
Chile's Universidad Catolica, Brazil's Fluminense and Argentina's Velez Sarsfield put themselves in prime position to advance to the quarterfinals with favorable results in this week's first legs of the Copa Libertadores Round of 16 stage.
Brazil's Cruzeiro, the tournament's top team so far, started out slow but rebounded with a win in Colombia while Mexico's America, with several key figures out, lost by a minimal scoreline to Neymar and Santos in Brazil.
Here is a recap of all of the Round of 16 action this week:
Gremio (Brazil) 1, Universidad Catolica (Chile) 2
Don't know what Borges was thinking when he let loose an elbow on Catolica's David Henriquez around the 30th-minute mark but his resulting red card not only gave the Chileans a one-man advantage, it opened up the match even further than it already was, with UC leading 1-0. The Brazilians' equalizer came on a bomb from Douglas with a half-hour left but the Chilean side was impressively composed and its efforts paid off when Argetine forward Lucas Pratto netted his second of the match (and sixth of the competition) in the 73rd minute on a counterattack and subsequent running header.
Velez Sarsfield (Argentina) 3, LDU Quito (Ecuador) 0
The Ecuadoreans, 2008 Libertadores champs, have been one of the top continental squads in recent years, buoyed by the rise of that country's soccer program, but were an unrecognizable sied as they had two players sent off and essentially gifted Velez winger Augusto Fernandez two goals withing the first 10 minutes of play. Fernandez left LDU defenders milling about in the box as he connected on two passes to give him his brace. The Argentines were unlucky not to score more but will have to concentrate on the return leg because one early quick goal next week in the skies of Quito can give LDU hope.
Once Caldas (Colombia) 1, Cruzeiro (Brazil) 2
For one half, the last-seeded Colombians kept up with the best team in the tournament before Cruzeiro's Argentine playmaker Walter Montillo decided to show up and provide his midfield services that he is known for at this level, resulting in two goals. Wallyson got his sixth of the competition and Paraguayan Jose Ortigoza netted as well while 30-year-old striker Brandao, on loan from France's Marseille, also impressed with several shots on goal after only signing with the club less than a month ago.
Jaguares (Mexico) 1, Atletic Junior (Colombia) 1
The Colombians were worried about one player on the Mexican side—-another Colombian. Jackson Martinez is Jaguares' young, agile striker, who gave Junior's backline all sorts of trouble, maybe not necessarily with shots on goal but with his work rate and manuevering. Junior didn't relax even though it got a sixth-minute goal by Luis Paez but gave Martinez space to equalize with a header in the 57th minute.
Esudiantes de la Plata (Argentina) 0, Cerro Porteno (Paraguay) 0
The Paraguayan side has the competition's top goal-scorer and has several prominent figures to generate attacks but its goalless draw in Argentina was because of the man of the match, goalie Diego Barreto, who withstood a barrage of strikes with acrobatic stops. Meanwhile, Veron looked like he was still suffering from injury as he looked off and lacked creativity. The Argentines haven't won in seven matches and it doesn't get easier in the next week: they play Argentine league leaders this weekend and head to Paraguay for the return leg next week.
Santos (Brazil) 1, America (Mexico) 0
The Brazilians grabbed a minimal win over a Mexican side that deployed reserves and were noticeably frustrated at leaving the doors open for America. The Mexicans had one eye on this match and the other on a vital league contest against Pumas this weekend, resulting in a defensive-minded scheme for this tilt in Brazil. Neymar and company couldn't capitalize and frantically raided America's side of the field towards the end. Meanwhile, the Mexicans won't host Santos in Azteca because of a U2 concert and will therefore place the return leg in Queretaro, about 130 miles from Mexico City.
Fluminense (Brazil) 3, Libertad (Paraguay) 1
For a moment, it appeared that Libertad would be the second side to shock a Brazilian side at home this week and kept up with Flu's physical game. But Flu shook off Libertad's equalizer by Rodolfo Gamarra in the 59th minute with a brilliant rocket from outside the box by Marquinhos that 21-year-old babyfaced Tobias Vargas couldn't reach. Two minutes later, Flu's Argentine wizard Dario Conca sealed the victory with a well-placed free kick that left Vargas stretching.
Penarol (Uruguay) 1, Internacional (Brazil) 1
The Uruguayan side, backed by its rabid fans, came out with fire and even caused defending champions Inter to scramble inside the box off of a Penarol corner kick within a minute from the start. Inter goalie Renan withstood Penarol's constant attacks before the champs calmed things down somewhat but couldn't avoid a 36th-minute goal by Mathias Corujo, who netted off of a cross from Argentine Alejandro Martinuccio. With about 25 minutes left, Inter's Leandro Damiao tied it up with a massive strike from outside the box that appeared to have flicked off of a defender to tie it up.