San Luis traveled to Asunción, Paraguay earlier this week and has a monumental task ahead, as nothing less than victory will suffice against Group 1 leaders Libertad. However, even with a win, San Luis is not guaranteed of advancement, as the club must also rely on Colombian side Once Caldas to take points from Peruvians Universidad San Martín in Lima, an unlikely scenario to begin with.
Still, the potosinos will be giving it their all in Asunción with one eye on proceedings further north. The squad features a clean bill of health, and although the team has hit some patchy form domestically, they have vastly improved their play in the Libertadores after two defeats to open the campaign. The team knows the knockout stages are an achievable goal, having qualified in the 2009 campaign with a strong showing.
In Libertad, San Luis face a team that has been equally shaky on the domestic front, but has thoroughly dominated its Libertadores group, having already qualified and clinched first place in a so far undefeated campaign. With memories of Libertad's 2-0 victory at San Luis' Estadio Alfonso Lastras lingering in the players' minds, it is shaping up to be an intriguing showdown on the final day of group play.
San Luis enters the match on the back of a 1-2 home defeat to Toluca. Despite fielding a fairly strong side, manager Ignacio Ambriz saw his charges fall in stoppage time after Sergio Ponce looked to have secured a point in the 85th minute. The result extended San Luis' winless streak to nine games in the Primera División (admittedly with six draws thrown in) and leaves them with a slim chance at qualifying for the playoffs.
However, with no relegation worries, the team is free to focus on the Libertadores, where they have markedly improved after defeats against Libertad and Universidad San Martín to open the group stage. They most recently won 3-1 at home against Universidad San Martín, with Michael Arroyo adding a brace to Juan Carlos Medina's early opener. Arroyo, who came in as a substitue at the weekend, should be back, and Ambriz will have a healty squad to call upon.
In the previous game against Libertad, former Necaxa man Nicolás Pavlovich and veteran midfielder Segio Aquino did the damage, with Juan Manuel Cavallo providing a goal for the Mexican side. Still, history shows San Luis can still hold a bit of hope traveling to the group leaders. In their 2009 campaign, San Luis posted a 2-0 win over an already-qualified Libertad in Paraguay on the last day of group play, a result that saw them edge out second place an extremely tight group.
Furthermore, Libertad have not been perfect at home in group play, as they most recently scratched out a 2-2 draw against Once Caldas, with Pavlovich grabbing an injury time equalizer. Still, despite that result and their three-game losing streak in the domestic league (most recently fielding a reserve side), it is not a team to be dealt with lightly. While first place is already secure, they can claim the second overall seed in the knockout stages behind Cruzeiro with a win. Given the quality of teams that could finish second in their groups, it could ultimately be a mixed blessing, but it is still an alluring target for Libertad.
Pavlovich provides a superb aerial presence that has been on display regularly through the Libertadores, while the younger Rodolfo Gamarra provides a pacy counterpart who can play across the forward line. Aquino, a veteran midfielder who has spent his entire career in Paraguay and was capped seven times for the national team, is not a name many fans outside of Paraguay will recognize, but provides a stable, creative presence in the field.
With San Luis also needing Universidad San Martín to drop points at home to Once Caldas, though, qualification is unlikely even with a win. However, Once Caldas did spring a surprise at Libertad, and even though they are already eliminated, don't expect them to lie down for the Peruvians. Any San Luis fans will want to keep one eye on that scoreline as they watch their team battle it out in Asunción.
Expect San Luis to come out attacking, with Libertad sitting back and looking to exploit any space the back line might offer. If Ambriz and his can pull off the result, there will be plenty to be happy about on the flight home to Mexico, even if they ultimately end up falling short in their quest for qualification.
Will San Luis come through when it counts, or will Libertad clinch the second seed? You can find out by tuning in at 9:30 PM ET on FOX Deportes.