Copa Libertadores the domain of the big clubs, but Cruzeiro or Boca Juniors face exit
This is proving to be a year of the heavy hitters in the Copa Libertadores. The first legs of the quarterfinals took place this week and only one team involved has never won the title: Atletico Tucuman from the north of Argentina, who lost 2-0 at home to reigning champions Gremio of Brazil.
Only one team are not from Brazil or Argentina either: Chile's Colo Colo, who also lost their first leg tie 2-0 at home to Palmeiras.
It would perhaps be unwise to take too much for granted, though. After all, Palmeiras were in exactly the same position in the previous round, having returned from Paraguay with a 2-0 first leg win over Cerro Porteno. The return game might have seemed like a formality -- until ex-Brazil international midfielder Felipe Melo managed to get himself sent off right at the start of the match. Palmeiras lost 1-0, their only defeat of the campaign, and praying for the final whistle come the end of the game.
Still, barring a remarkable turn of events, the Brazilian pair of Gremio and Palmeiras should be safely through to the semis. And they may be joined by another Brazilian side.
In the last tie of the round, on Thursday night, Cruzeiro will look to overturn a 2-0 first leg defeat by Argentine giants Boca Juniors. The game has the potential to be a classic and it would have made for a worthy final, but one of these giants will be leaving early instead.
The first leg was marked by a controversial red card given to commanding Cruzeiro centre back Dede, who was involved in a seemingly accidental clash of heads with Boca keeper Esteban Andrada. Dede's absence was a key factor in Boca's second goal, but on appeal his red card has been scrapped and he is free to play on Thursday.
Andrada, meanwhile, broke his jaw and will not be in action for some time. His absence could prove vital to the rematch. Boca lack a replacement of similar quality and for all their attacking riches, the defence does not inspire the same confidence. A recent home defeat to River Plate in the "Superclasico" has been a blow to morale, though the team got back to winning ways on Sunday with a 3-1 league triumph over Colon.
Can Boca snatch a vital away goal? And will they be able to protect stand-in keeper Agustin Rossi? Thursday's match in the Mineirao is full of fascinating ingredients.
As, too, is the clash that opens the week's action: Tuesday's all-Argentine meeting of River Plate and Independiente.
River, on a long unbeaten run in all competitions, have gone five Libertadores games without conceding, while Independiente have gone four. Perhaps the 0-0 draw in the first leg was predictable but these are attacking sides, coached by intelligent, forward-thinking figures (Marcelo Gallardo and Ariel Holan) who may even be in the running to take charge of the Argentina national side.
Despite the lack of goals, the first leg was an intriguing clash. Overflowing with confidence and with home advantage in the rematch, River are favourites, but Independiente will surely go in search of a potentially decisive away goal. It could stay tense all the way to the end.