Less than ten years after the club's foundation, Chiapas-based side Jaguares will take to the pitch against Paraguayan team Cerro Porteño in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores. While the team's qualification was in and of itself remarkable, very few would have predicted they would make it all the way to the quarterfinals, surpassing Mexico's two other entrants, América and San Luis. Nonetheless, after a wild round of 16 tie against Junior, where Jaguares advanced on away goals after a thrilling 3-3 draw in Colombia, the team from the Mexican jungle is poised to write yet another chapter in its short, but sweet, history.
However, Cerro Porteño will not provide easy opposition, as the team known as el ciclón finished top of Group 5 after a remarkable 3-2 comeback win over Chile's Colo Colo on the final day. Boasting the competition's top scorer, Roberto Nanni, and the Argentine-Paraguayan starlet Juan Manuel Iturbe, the Paraguayan side will present an extremely tough obstacle as they look to claim their first-ever Copa Libertadores. Cerro is a team that can adapt well to varying circumstances. While the team played an open, attacking style in many of its group games, it also proved itself capable of shutting up shop, as demonstrated in its round of 16 tie with Estudiantes, which ended 0-0 on aggregate and saw Cerro through on penalties.
Though they are looking to make history, Jaguares have plenty of questions to answer, especially after a stunningly poor performance from Jorge Villalpando in goal and his subsequent bust-up with Jaguares manager José Cruz after being substituted. While the two have now seemingly made up, it would be hard to see someone other than reserve 'keeper Fabián Villaseñor starting after Villalpando's shocking goalkeeping against Junior.
Furthermore, Jaguares will be without suspended star forward Jackson Martínez, who scored two goals but was subsequently sent off after a bust-up with Junior player Cesar Fawcett, earning him a suspension for this game. While Martínez will return for the second leg, his presence will be sorely missed in a game where Jaguares will be looking to stake their advantage ahead of a potentially grueling trip to Paraguay.
Veteran striker Julio Frías could be the man to replace Martínez, boasting plenty of experience and a similar build and style of play to the talismanic Colombian. Argentine playmaker Damián Manso, a Copa Libertadores winner in 2008 with LDU Quito, could also be in line for more playing time after mostly being used as a substitute in 2011. Otherwise, expect a fairly similar lineup to the one that faced Junior, albeit with a more attacking outlook on towards the game.
Cerro, on the other hand, will likely adopt a more defensive outlook for this first leg, but probably not as negative a setup as the one used over two legs against Estudiantes. Nanni, a tall and strong forward, will be integral to Cerro's game, as he will be expected both to hold the ball up and physically challenge the defense as well as nick a goal or two. He will be supported by veteran playmaker Jonathan Fabbro, who is both technically gifted and physically imposing. Iturbe, a star for the Argentina U-20 national side at the recent South American Youth Championship and destined for Porto in the summer, will likely come off the bench, where he has been deadly, both in the Libertadores and in the domestic league. Cerro will be able to field a full strength squad, with the exception of center back Luis Cardozo, who could miss the game after contracting dengue. His replace would be the Argentine Mariano Uglessich.
Despite the talent available to Cerro, it is likely Jaguares that will look to control most of possession. José Cruz's side will want to keep the ball away from Cerro as much as possible, knowing that an away goal, and certainly two, would be fatal for their chances. The biggest question is if other Jaguares players can step up in the absence of Jackson Martínez, as they will likely want to win by at least two goals to be truly comfortable going into the second leg in Paraguay.
You can catch the game at 9:45pm est on Fox Deportes.