By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
Argentina's Velez Sarsfield and Uruguay's Penarol each have a step into the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores after their shutout wins in the home legs of their quarterfinal ties.
Santos, the lone Brazilian team remaining in the field, got a vital away victory in Colombia, and Mexico's Jaguares needed a little English flavor to equalize at the last minute in this week's other first-leg quarterfinal matches.
All four second-leg matchups will take place next week, but here's a recap of the first leg of the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals:
Velez Sarsfield (Argentina) 3, Libertad (Paraguay) 0
It didn't look like the Argentines missed their home stadium, which was banned for use this past weekend when authorities confiscated a heavy batch of fireworks and pyrotechnics from supporters following a league match. Playing at the famed Bombonera, Velez was without its skilled Uruguayan striker Santiago Silva but had Maxi Moralez step up as he netted the Argentines' first in the 20th minute to give the home side some breathing room.
The Paraguayans had their chances, but the match ended with Juan Manuel Martinez's two goals, including a penalty, in the second half. The third was a give-and-go involving Martinez (pictured above), who smacked it toward Libertad keeper Tobias Vargas, but Vargas couldn't hold on to it as the ball slipped into the net.
Penarol (Uruguay) 2, Universidad Catolica (Chile) 0
If there was ever a misleading score to a match, this was it. Catolica's calmly-produced possession game was ruined by goalkeeper Paulo Garces' errors on both of the Uruguayan goals.
In the 34th minute, Garces bumped into a defender while attempting to haul in what appeared to be a routine short cross, allowing Juan Manuel Olivera to poke in and boot in the ball into the net for his fifth of the competition. Although the Manyas and Catolica each had early chances, it was the Chileans that seemed liked the home team at times as their passing looked smoother and more effective, that is, until Garces' first blunder, which woke up Penarol.
Catoliac's young Argentine striker Lucas Pratto gave the Uruguayan backline trouble as he sought his sixth goal of the tournament, but in the end it was Garces again who was unable to catch a high ball, which ricocheted off of his chest and onto the path of Argentine striker Alejandro Martinuccio, who smacked it into the net as stoppage time winded down.
Once Caldas (Colombia) 0, Santos (Brazil) 1
Midfielder Alan Patrick made fans temporarily forget about the injured Paulo Ganso, as he expertly sprinted onto a nifty pass from teen star Neymar right before the half to give Santos the only goal of the match.
Patrick replaced Ganso, who is out for six weeks after picking up an injury in league action over the weekend. On the hour, the Colombians had defender Elkin Calle sent off after fouling Neymar on a breakaway, leaving Caldas' dangerous tandem of Dayro Moreno and Wason Renteria a bit tentative in attack as they played the last half-hour with 10 men.
In stoppage time, Renteria appeared to have been fouled in the box but the official didn't see fit to call a penalty, prompting an enraged committee of Caldas players to surround him but all for naught.
Jaguares (Mexico) 1, Cerro Porteno (Paraguay) 1
Just this past week, English media speculated that its national team would take a look at Jaguares striker Antonio Pedroza as a shock possible reinforcement (Pedroza's mom is English), but the 20-year-old Jaguares striker pledged his future to Mexico. Although his national team aspirations may be a bit too early to assess, the striker's stock rose as he headed in a 90th-minute equalizer in a lackluster match.
Cerro sought to play a defensive-minded scheme and also failed to capitalize on its own opportunities, which included one by tournament leading scorer Roberto Nanni, who had a clear chance to grab his eighth only to be thwarted by a defender.
What did you think of the first games of the quarterfinals? Who do you see advancing to the semifinals?
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