What happened in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores Round of 16?

The knockout stage of the 2018 Copa Libertadores began this week. All but two clubs played their first-leg matches in the Round of 16 over the past few days.

After the lull following the end of the group stage, Copa Libertadores action was back this week as 14 of the 16 clubs played out the first leg of the Round of 16. Originally, Independiente was supposed to played Santos as well this week. But as the reigning champions of the Copa Sudamericana, Independiente was instead in Japan defeating Cerezo Osaka for the 2018 Suruga Bank against the J-League Cup champions.

No club has won the Copa LIbertadores more times than Independiente, which has claimed the crown seven times throughout history. This year, the Argentine team could have its hands full. But we won’t know for certain, because the match between the Argentine side and the Brazilians was postponed until August 21.

We do, however, know where everyone stands in their respective Round of 16 matches. Seven matches concluded, though, and it was an instructive opportunity to see how well clubs can do on the return leg of the Round of 16. Here is a quick run through each of the seven Copa Libertadores matches that did take place between Tuesday and Thursday in South America.

Estudiantes (Argentina) vs. Grêmio (Brazil)

Estudiantes matched up against defending Copa Libertadores champions Grêmio in the first Round of 16 showdown on Tuesday. Juan Apaolaza opened up the scoring in the ninth minute with a swerving strike from outside the box that floated past goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe into the top corner. Gaston Campi doubled the lead in the 37th minute, beating Grohe with a strong header off Fernando Zuqui’s delivery from the corner.

Just before halftime, Walter Kannemann pulled one goal back for the visitors. The away goal could prove critical, especially since Zuqui drew a second yellow card in the match and will be unavailable for Estudiantes in the second leg on August 28.

Boca Juniors (Argentina) vs. Libertad (Paraguay)

Playing at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Boca Juniors took a commanding 2-0 aggregate lead at home in their first leg of the Round of 16 against Paraguay’s Libertad. Ramón Ábila got things started early in the match on Wednesday, beating Rodrigo Muñoz in the seventh minute. Then, right before halftime, Mauro Zárate was set up by Ábila for a second Boca Juniors goal.

The first goal came with some controversy, as Paolo Goltz appeared guilty of a handball prior to it falling at Ábila’s feet. But Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio allowed the goal, and the post-match protests mean little now that the Paraguayan side is two goals down rather than just one.

Flamengo (Brazil) vs. Cruzeiro (Brazil)

In an all-Brazilian matchup, Cruzeiro took down Flamengo 2-0 on the road to set themselves up strong for advancement into the quarterfinals. Giorgian De Arrascaeta scored early, Thiago Neves doubled the score right before the intermission, and the hosts gave up two critical away goals.

Those goals by De Arrascaeta and Neves at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, set Cruzeiro up for a smooth time advancing later this month on their home pitch. First, though, the two clubs meet for the second time this week as Cruzeiro remains in Rio for Série A action. Flamengo may be higher in the table, but Cruzeiro is on the better run of recent form and has the memory of the two-goal win on the road to fall back upon.

Colo-Colo (Chile) vs. Corinthians (Brazil)

Nothing went right for Corinthians on their trip to Santiago de Chile. The Brazilians went down 1-0 in the 38th minute, as Carlos Carmona found the back of the net right before the intermission. Then things turned from bad to worse within 10 minutes of the restart. A foolish challenge earned Corinthians defensive midfielder Gabriel Girotto Franco a straight red card, leaving his teammates to play with 10 men for the final 36 minutes of the match. Though Colo-Colo couldn’t find another goal to put things completely to rest, they had no trouble stifling the few chances Corinthians could muster after the dismissal.

All things considered, the Brazilians should consider themselves lucky after the way everything played out in Chile. It was unfortunate for Colo-Colo that they couldn’t extend their aggregate lead with the man advantage. Ultimately, that inability to put at least one more of their seven shots on target into the net could backfire if Corinthians find their scoring touch at home.

Racing Club (Argentina) vs. River Plate (Argentina)

In a second Copa Libertadores Round of 16 matchup pitting two sides from the same country, Argentina’s Racing Club and River Plate met one another on Thursday night. The two Argentine powerhouses played to a goalless draw in Avellaneda, which makes the return match at El Monumental that much more critical for both sides.

For Racing, even a draw will be enough to advance if they can snatch a crucial away goal. Even a second scoreless draw would go to extra time and then penalties. River Plate, on the other hand, are now even more conditioned to play for a victory, since a draw of any sort at home won’t be enough to guarantee passage through.

Atlético Tucumán (Argentina) vs. Atlético Nacional (Colombia)

In a showdown of Atléticos, the Argentine hosts took down their Colombian visitors 2-0 on Thursday. Leandro Díaz put Atlético Tucumán up 1-0 in the seventh minute, which only compelled Nacional to double down on offense. Tucumán sat behind the ball for most of the match, ending the day with only 23 percent of the possession, but the opportunity to double up the score on the counter came midway through the second half. Guillermo Acosta found space to uncork a shot past Nacional goalkeeper Fernando Monetti.

Even with a two-goal lead, there is no guarantee that Atlético Tucumán will pull through to the quarterfinals. Working in their favor, though, is the fact that Nacional has not won at home since the quarterfinal victory over Deportivo Cali in the second leg of the Apertura quarterfinals back in May.

Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) vs. Palmeiras (Brazil)

Miguel Borja racked up a second-half brace as Palmeiras scored two critical away goals on their visit to Asunción. That will allow the Brazilians to approach the second leg at home in any number of ways. They can play it conservatively, parking the bus and daring Cerro Porteño to crack their defense. Palmeiras can turn the screws even further in hopes of asserting their presence to the other teams still in the competition. Those two goals on the road provide a rare freedom in the knockout competition.

Cerro Porteño actually enjoyed more scoring chances than their visitors, but the Paraguayan powerhouse couldn’t put a single one of their shots on target. It won’t get any easier to turn things around on the return trip. Palmeiras will make it as tough as possible to pull level, and to go through outright Cerro Porteño has to score at least three goals. Considering they havent scored three goals in a match since May, that could be a tall order.

Independiente and Santos will play their first leg on August 21. The second-leg matches for every club will take place over the final week of August. Stay tuned as we continue to follow the Copa Libertadores through to its conclusion in November.