River Plate managed to see off the challenge of their fierce rivals, Boca Juniors in the Monumental on Thursday night to reach the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Leonardo Pisculichi’s early strike proved to be decisive and keeps Marcelo Gallardo’s side on track for at least one trophy this season. After losing to Racing last Sunday and slipping off the top of the table, victory against Boca was vital. The win sets up a clash with Atlético Nacional and is a first continental final for River in eleven years.
The immense pressure on River after Sunday’s defeat, coupled with the death of Marcelo Gallardo’s mother just two days prior to the match were not exactly the perfect preparation for the biggest game of the year and the electric opening to last night’s clash could not have gone worse.
The opening two minutes in the Monumental brought more drama and action than the previous ninety in La Bombonera and the significance was huge. Just twenty seconds were on the clock when Germán Delfino pointed to the spot and awarded Boca a penalty after Ariel Rojas inadvertantly hacked Cesár Meli as he attempted to clear the ball. Perhaps it was the delay as River’s players vociferously argued, the scale of the occasion or the lazer pointers but Emanuel Gigliotti’s spotkick lacked conviction and Marcelo Barovero spread himself superbly and pawed away the effort with a strong right hand.
Barovero saved River once again shortly after with an excellent double save to deny Federico Carrizo and Gigliotti’s follow up but after sixteen minutes the tide turned.
River worked the ball out onto the left and Leonel Vangioni drilled the ball across the penalty box and despite the pace on the ball, Leonardo Pisculichi expertly stroked the ball past Agustín Orión with his left foot.
As River’s authority grew, chances for Boca became few and far between although Gigliotti did have the ball in the net, only to see it ruled out for offside. After the break it was River who should have made certain of victory, Teo Gutiérrez the most culpable, missing a glorious opportunity shortly after the restart.
As the match edged into stoppage time, Boca’s frustration boiled over and Daniel Díaz gave Teo Gutiérrez a little kick as the striker attempted to run the clock down in the corner. Diáz was shown a red card and the clock ticked down to give River another famous victory.