Libertad, Atletico Junior lead way in Libertadores

Paraguay’s Libertad and Colombia’s Atletico Junior are the only

teams guaranteed places in the last 16 of the Copa Libertadores as

the group phase of Latin America’s top club competition reaches its

decisive stage.

With only a couple of games left in each group, Bolivia’s

Oriente Petrolero and Paraguay’s Guarani are definitely out, while

Cruzeiro is all but assured of joining the list of qualifiers. Only

two heavy defeats could keep the Brazilian club out of the knockout

round.

Defending champion Internacional is also well-placed, although

other favored teams have struggled.

Fellow Brazilian club Santos must improve fast to qualify from

Group 5 after taking two points from three games, while 2004

champion Once Caldas of Colombia is last in Group 1 with one match

left.

Libertad needed just four games to reach the final 16, with

Sergio Aquino’s winning goal from the penalty spot against Peru’s

Universidad San Martin giving the Paraguayan club 10 points to

clinch a top-two place in Group 1.

A draw in the following game against Once Caldas assured

Libertad of top spot, while the second qualifying berth will go

down to the final round of matches. Peru’s Universidad San Martin

has six points, Mexico’s San Luis has five and Once Caldas has

four.

Atletico Junior has had an even more impressive group campaign,

taking a maximum 12 points from four games to secure qualification

from Group 2 – the only perfect record in the competition.

The tournament’s top scoring team is Cruzeiro of Brazil, which

scored nine goals in its first two games and now has 15 from

four.

The glut of goals has helped Cruzeiro striker Wallyson become

the group stage’s top scorer with five goals, while teammates

Walter Montillo and Roger have three goals apiece. Cruzeiro needs

just a draw from its match at Guarani on Wednesday to confirm

progression.

Internacional should also make the next round after taking seven

points from three games in Group 6. While Estudiantes of Argentina,

the 2009 champion, is behind Cruzeiro in Group 7 with nine points

from four games.

A draw at Colombia’s Deportes Tolima on Wednesday would put

Estudiantes through, while Internacional can take a stranglehold on

its group with a home win against Bolivia’s Jorge Wilstermann the

same day.

The real disappointment has been Santos. The Brazilian club has

a rising star in Neymar, an 18-year-old forward who has scored

three goals in three games for the Brazil national team and drawn

interest from big-spending clubs like Chelsea and Manchester

City.

Neymar is supported by experienced players like forward Elano,

Barcelona loanee Keirrison and former Manchester United player

Rodrigo Possebon. Still, Santos has labored badly in Group 5.

With two points from three games, the Brazilian club is third in

the group behind Chile’s Colo Colo on six and Cerro Porteno of

Paraguay on five.

Keen to revive the glory years of the 1960s when Pele led the

club to two Libertadores titles, Santos must improve quickly to

avoid elimination.