Though there are still matches to be played in the preliminary phase of the Copa Libertadores 2010, as of today the group stage will be well and truly underway. Thirteen games over three days are on the agenda, a fixture list which features no fewer than six Argentinian sides and several fancied contenders. previews the pick of the action ahead.

Game of the week
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) - Cruzeiro (BRA)

Wednesday 10 February, Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires, 20.50 (local time)

Two genuine forces on the Latin American scene are set to kick off their Group 7 campaigns with a bang. Velez, Clausura 2009 winners and currently top of the Argentinian Apertura, are full of confidence and eyeing Libertadores success in their centenary year. And despite resting players at the weekend, Ricardo Gareca’s charges were able to record a 2-1 home success over Gimnasia La Plata.

Cruzeiro are also in buoyant mood ahead of their visit to Velez’s fortress-like Estadio Jose Amalfitani. A Raposa have scored 11 goals in their last two games, including a record 7-0 second-leg thrashing of Bolivia’s Real Potosi in the preliminary phase.

“We go there knowing how difficult it’ll be, but we’re also focused on imposing ourselves on the game, playing football and trying to win,” said coach Adilson Batista. “We’ll have to be on our guard, because they’re direct rivals for the top-two group spots and have good players.”

In a similar move to compatriots Velez, Banfield and Lanus, who meet each other in the league next weekend, also decided to rest key players in their previous domestic outings. Unlike the Apertura pacesetters, however, their second strings went down to defeats against Chacarita Juniors and Argentinos Juniors respectively. 

Banfield, last year’s Argentinian Apertura champions, are preparing to take on Monarcas Morelia of Mexico, with El Taladro coach Julio Cesar Falcioni already voicing his intent to prioritise the Libertadores over domestic duties.

One team not resting players at the weekend were continental champions Estudiantes, whose morale is sure to be boosted by a 2-0 victory over the always dangerous San Lorenzo. El Pincha now take on Peruvian outfit Juan Aurich and their Panamanian dangerman Luis Tejada, scorer of three of the club’s four goals in the two-legged preliminary win over Estudiantes Tecos of Mexico.

In the first of the final two matches of the preliminary phase, Chile’s Universidad Catolica host Argentina’s Colon needing to overturn a 3-2 first-leg deficit. Yet another Argentinian side, Newell’s Old Boys, need at least a score draw away to Emelec of Ecuador to progress after being held 0-0 in the first leg.

Player to watch
Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes)
The holders’ veteran playmaker, just a month shy of his 35th birthday, marked a fine display against San Lorenzo with a superb goal. With La Brujita defying the years to remain at the peak of his powers, Juan Aurich will need all their defensive nous to avoid falling under his spell.

The stat
7 – In the fiercely competitive and ever-changing arena that is Brazilian football, Sao Paulo have worked wonders to extend their run of consecutive Libertadores campaigns to seven. Having not missed out since 2003, O Tricolor Paulista won the 2005 edition, followed by that year’s FIFA Club World Cup, and finished runners-up in 2006.

With goalscoring keeper and current captain Rogerio Ceni, 37, invariably between the sticks, Sao Paulo also reached the knockout stages in 2004 and between 2007 and 2009. In their first match in Group 2, Ricardo Gomes’s team host Monterrey, who are currently fourth in the overall Mexican Apertura standings.

What they said
“It’ll be a massive game in the history of this club. Our team knows how to play this type of match. We’ve done as much pre-match preparation as you possibly can, but of course when it comes to the game itself all that can go out the window,” Colon coach Antonio Mohamed.

The week's fixtures
Tuesday 9 February
Universidad Catolica (CHI) - Colon (ARG)
Nacional (PAR) - Once Caldas (COL)
Lanus (ARG) - Libertad (PAR)
CA Cerro (URU) - Deportivo Quito (ECU)

Wednesday 10 February
Bolivar (BOL) - Alianza Lima (PER)
Banfield (ARG) - Monarcas Morelia (MEX)
Sao Paulo (BRA) - Monterrey (MEX)
Velez Sarsfield (ARG) - Cruzeiro (BRA)
Emelec (ECU) - Newell’s Old Boys (ARG)

Thursday 11 February
Nacional (URU) - Deportivo Cuenca (ECU)
Cerro Porteno (PAR) - Independiente Medellin (COL)
Estudiantes (ARG) - Juan Aurich (PER)
Blooming (BOL) - Universitario (PER)