By Steve Mitchell
River Plate v Guarani
Argentinean giants River Plate face Guarani from Paraguay in the first semi-final. For a club the size of River (32 times league champions) the fact that they have only won the competition twice is seen as just not good enough in the eyes of their fanatical supporters. Their city rivals Boca Juniors have won the title on six occasions and this just adds more fuel to the fire.Having eliminated their bitter rivals in the last 16 of this year’s competition will count for nothing if they don’t go on to lift the trophy.
A tale of two cities
Coach Marcelo Gallardo is under huge pressure to deliver the top prize but his brief stint in charge of Los Millonarios has started well, winning the Copa Sudamericana in his first full season. His team currently sits in fourth place in the PrimeraDivisión championship after 15 matches, just three points off leaders San Lorenzo. The club from Buenos Aires has not appeared in the final for almost 20 years, this will surely be their best chance to alter that statistic.
In stark contrast to their more illustrious opponents, Guarani have one domestic league title to their name back in 2010. The Paraguayan minnows from the city of Asunción whose compact Estadio Rogelio Lorenzo Livieres has a capacity of just 8000, have never been anywhere close to reaching the Copa Libertadores finals in their 112 year history.
A fairy-tale story
Their coach is the 41-year-old Spaniard Fernando Carmona who has been at the club since 2013. Guarani is his first managerial position and many people in the city are having to pinch themselves to believe that they are in the last four of such a huge competition. They beat Brazilian giants Corinthians in the last 16 before eliminating Racing Club de Avellaneda of Argentina in the quarter-final. The first leg will be hosted by River Plate at the impressive Estadio El Monumental on the 15th of July before the return in Asunción a week later.
Internacional vTigres UANL
The second semi-final pits two time Copa Libertadores winner Internacional of Brazil against Tigres UANL of Mexico. The Brazilian side from the city of Porto Alegre overcame a familiar opponent in the last 16 defeating AtléticoMineiro 5-3 on aggregate before despatching Santa Fe of Colombia in the quarter-final.
Uruguayan coach, the 49-year-old Diego Aguirre has previous final experience after guiding Peñarol to the final in 2011 where they narrowly lost over two legs to Santos. Internacional has two familiar faces to European football fans in their team in the shape of 35 year-old former AS Roma defender Juan and former Manchester United midfielder Anderson and will start as favourites to reach the final.
The eye of the Tigres
Tigres UANL have been Mexican league champions three times, the last time in 2012. Their passage to the last four included a tight 3-2 aggregate win over Bolivian club Universitario in the last 16 before overturning a 1-0 first leg deficit to overcome Emelec of Ecuador in the quarter-final. The team comes from the city of San Nicolás de los Garza and are coached by the 61-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Ferretti, now in his fifth season at the club. They have a tricky first leg away in Porto Alegre before the return in what is sure to be an intimidating atmosphere at their 42000 capacity EstadioUniversitario de Nuevo León on July 23rd.