This week may be one of the quietest of all in the football calendar, with almost all major teams in Europe slowly returning to pre-season training in the next few weeks. Those players that took part in the Confederations Cup and Under-21 European Championship head off for a well earned holiday or, in the case of Xabi Alonso, wait patiently for their mobile to ring and tie up a move to Real Madrid.
As a result, we turn to South America with two massive games coming up in the Copa Libertadores, the Champions League of the continent. Both matches are perfectly poised for the home sides to give it a right good go, with a place in the two-legged final on July 8 and July 15 up for grabs.
Thursdayâ€™s match-up between Estudiantes and Nacional looks the hardest to call. The Uruguayan side are arguably the slight favourites to progress as the Argentinians are likely to be without talisman Juan Sebastian Veron in midfield.
The fact Veron is likely to be missing has not been lost on Nacional coach Gerardo Pelusso (“he’s the strategist, he’s very important”). Nevertheless, despite his importance to the structure of the side, Estudiantes do have some other players who can sneak an away goal and prove themselves as match-winners.
Mauro Boselli is a natural striker with a fine goalscoring record (and the reputed hardest shot in the world) and fellow striker Juan Salguerio, who will be eager to impress in his home country, is known as a player who scores important goals.
Nacional keeper Rodrigo Munoz was in fine form in the first-leg and if he can keep a clean sheet Nacional will probably score at least once. The atmosphere in the Centenario will be red hot and with no Argentinean fans allowed to travel, and the home side have a real chance of repeating their 1988 success in this competition.
101gg predicts: Nacional 2 â€“ Estudiantes 0
We can also expect fireworks in the second semi-final with Gremio chasing an unlikely comeback after they had been 3-0 down in the first game. Brazil have long been touted as the dominant country in this competition and the winners of this tie will fancy their chances of claiming the title.
The second-leg has been overshadowed by a spat from the first game after Cruzeiro midfielder Elicarlos’ claims that he had been racially insulted by Gremio’s Argentine striker Maxi Lopez which saw the police called to investigate. (Watch here.)
Despite the first-leg deficit, Gremioâ€™s veteran midfield duo Souza (Gremioâ€™s goal scorer in the first game) and Tcheco are tipped to be danger men for the hosts. Unfortunately though, Gremio’s plans to rest a number of players in the 3-1 defeat to Sport Recife on Sunday ahead of this match did not pan out exactly as planned, with Manchester United target Douglas Costa one of those selected to play last weekend with resulted in the forward picking up a thigh injury and sidelining Costa for a month.
Cruzeiro are in fine fettle and, after beating Brazilian champions Sao Paulo in the last round of the Libertadores, must be favourites to win this one. They have quality running through the side, proved by the fact that their last seven goals in this competition have been scored by seven different players.
101gg predicts: Gremio 2 â€“ Cruzeiro 2