By DAVID MOSSE
Boca Juniors had a disappointing debut in this Apertura Championship, being held to a scoreless draw by Olimpo last weekend. Julio Falcioni is already under pressure, especially with a possible presidential election looming, and would love a victory over Union on Monday (8:15 p.m.) at La Bombonera.
The focus is once again on Juan Roman Riquelme, who suffered through a frustrating afternoon in Bahia Blanca thanks in large part to the lousy pitch conditions. With Martin Palermo calling it quits after the last Clausura Championship, Riquelme lost his favorite target, so the task is now to help Pablo Mouche and Lucas Viatri emerge.
Just about the only bright spot for Los Xeneizes against Olimpo was the performance of new goalkeeper Agustin Orion, who made a crucial save early in the second half to preserve the draw. Falcioni hopes Orion is not called upon that often Monday for a Boca side that won only three of its nine home matches in its Clausura campaign.
Here's a look ahead to the other important matches in Latin America this weekend:
Estudiantes vs. San Lorenzo: Monday, 4:05 p.m.
Estudiantes is looking to bounce back from a scoreless draw with Newell's Old Boys in the opening round of the Apertura Championship. Miguel Angel Russo can count on a much healthier squad, however, as Juan Sebastian Veron and Justo Villar will be available. Midfielder Carlos Carbonero is also expected to be in the starting lineup.
Gaston Fernandez looks set to take the place of Guido Carrillo up front, while Mariano Gonzalez will probably start from the bench. Rodrigo Brana has missed some practice time this week with a nasty cold, but he is expected to be available on Monday. San Lorenzo is also seeking its first win after falling to Lanus at home last time out.
Velez Sarsfield vs. Atletico Banfield: Monday, 6:10 p.m.
Velez Sarsfield was held to a 1-1 draw last week by Godoy Cruz, despite playing over half the match with a man advantage. The reigning Clausura champions will be confident of picking up all three points against Banfield on Monday, but questions remain about a lack of creativity caused by the summer departure of Ricky Alvarez.
Ivan Bella came off the bench in the second half to notch an equalizer against Godoy Cruz. Agustin Vuletich is still away on international duty at the Under-20 World Cup, while Victor Zapata faces a race against time to be fit. Other key figures like David Ramirez and Santiago Silva will be available and hungry for a first victory.
Sao Paulo vs. Atletico Paranaense: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., GOLTV
The best news for Sao Paulo heading into the upcoming clash against Atletico Paranaense is that Lucas Moura didn't get off the bench in Brazil's friendly against Germany, so the youngster will be well-rested on Saturday. Cicero scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over Avai last time out, while Rivaldo's influence continues to grow.
Newcomer Denilson is struggling to adapt to the different criteria applied by Brazilian referees after spending several years in England with Arsenal. He picked up a red card recently against Coritiba that resulted in a two-game suspension. Sao Paulo is third in the table, two points behind Flamengo and Corinthians, who are tied for fist.
Vasco Da Gama vs. Palmeiras: Sunday, 3 p.m.
Luiz Felipe Scolari is set to make several changes for the rematch with Vasco after his Palmeiras side lost to the Rio de Janeiro club in a midweek Copa Sudamericana encounter. Scolari is especially concerned with defending on set pieces, so he is promising to field taller players. Some of the changes are forced due to suspension.
Chico takes the place of Marcos Assuncao in midfield, while Mauricio Ramos might replace Henrique in the center of defense. Vasco must deal with important absences as well with Dede and Diego Souza both suspended. Palmeiras needs Kleber to get back on track, as the talented striker hasn’t found the back of the net in six games.
Gremio vs. Fluminense: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Fred returned from international duty with his future extremely uncertain, but the striker announced he'd stay with Fluminense, despite recently being chased through the streets of Rio de Janeiro by members of a supporters group. Deco continues to struggle with fitness problems, and there are reports he might even call it quits.
Fluminense is also adjusting to life without Dario Conca, who left a gaping hole in the center of the park when he chose to sign with a Chinese club. Gremio is suffering through a miserable season and could be without Lucio and Leandro due to injury. Andre Lima is set to start up front with Douglas counted on to pull the strings.
Tigres UNAL vs. Club America: Saturday, 8 p.m., Telemundo
There's bad blood between Tigres and Club America at the moment because of the controversy involving goalkeeper Carlos Lopez. Tigres is still unbeaten in four games with one victory and three draws, and boss Ricardo Ferretti must be pleased with his team, which has dominated possession and created lots of chances in each match.
The finishing has been poor with Hector Mancilla and Lucas Lobos the main culprits, but both are capable of turning things around. Las Aguillas would love a victory as well to relive some of the pressure already mounting on manager Carlos Reinoso. Club America has only one victory and fell to Estudiantes in its last league match.
Pumas UNAM vs. Santos Laguna: Sunday, 1 p.m., Telemundo
Pumas lost its 100-percent record against Chivas last time out, but the scoreless draw was enough for Los Auriazules to remain atop the table. Martin Bravo and Eduardo Herrera squandered numerous opportunities in that match and will need to improve their finishing for Pumas to take care of business against Santos Laguna.
Los Guerreros fell to Tijuana last time out and haven't won at the Estadio Olimpico de Ciudad Universitaria since 2002. Colombian Carlos Darwin Quintero has struggled with some fitness issues this week, but should be available, while captain Oswaldo Sanchez says his team is extremely confidant heading into this marquee encounter.
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