By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The group stages of the Copa Libertadores gets back underway this week, with Carioca clubs Botafogo and Flamengo in action. Tonight (Wednesday) table-topping Botafogo travel to Ecuador to play Independiente del Valle and Flamengo host Bolivian club Bolívar at the Maracanã and a win could be enough to take the Rubro-Negro top of Group 7.
Flamengo recovered well from an opening round defeat to comfortably dispatch Emelec 3-1 a fortnight ago. The club currently sit in second place, with three points from two outings, just a point behind leaders Léon of Mexico.
They will go into the encounter brimming with confidence after they secured the Taça Guanabara on Sunday – the group stage of the Campeonato Carioca – and have made an excellent show of balancing their depleted squad across both competitions.
The club have also been handed a massive boost by striker Hernane’s decision to stay in Rio rather than make the lucrative switch to Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua. With Gabriel and Everton alongside Alecsandro, Flamengo have one of the most potent attacking forces in the tournament.
Amaral is free from suspension, having seen red in the first match against Léon. Yet Muralha’s competent display in his place may mean that Amaral is left warming the bench against Bolívar.
It is the Rubro-Negro’s second successive home game and they will be desperate to take six points from six. That means a further four points from their final three games should be sufficient to see them through to the knock-out stage.
Botafogo meanwhile suffered a major setback over the weekend, ahead of a daunting trip in the Libertadores. Following a 2-0 defeat to Flamengo on Sunday, the Glorioso became the first big club to be eliminated from this year’s Campeonato Carioca.
Flamengo and Fluminense are already through to the semi-finals, while Vasco are six points ahead of fifth place with just two matches left to play. Failure in the state tournament though, will be forgiven for progress on the continental stage.
The side have four points from two games and sit at the top of Group 2. Last time out they earned a valuable point away to Unión Española of Chile.
Last Sunday, their opponents Independiente del Valle took on LDU Quito, the club Botafogo eliminated at the Libertadores preliminary stage, in the Ecuadorian championship.
The game ended in a goalless draw and finding the back of the net looks like it may be a problem for the Ecuadorian outfit. Independiente have netted just five goals in their last five games.
The Ecuadorians are bottom of Group 2 with a single point from their opening two rounds. If Botafogo could come away from the match with a victory, they would be in prime position to top the group ahead of the knock-out phase.
Of the four other Brazilian teams in the competition, three top their group. Atlético-MG and Grêmio have a hundred percent record and are odds on to reach the final sixteen.
Cruzeiro recovered from an opening defeat to thrash Universidad de Chile 5-1 at the Mineirão, with the help of a Ricardo Goulart hat-trick. The only Brazilian club not in a qualifying position is Atlético-PR.
Atlético are third with one win and one defeat, having lost 2-0 away to Velez Sarsfield of Argentina. Tomorrow (Thursday) they are away to Universitario, but Adriano may miss out due to injury.
Copa Libertadores fixtures featuring Brazilian clubs:
Universitario v Atlético-PR
Independiente del Valle v Botafogo
Nacional v Atlético-MG
Defensor v Cruzeiro
Grêmio v Newell’s Old Boys
Flamengo v Bolívar