Just how important Leonardo Pisculichi’s second half goal was will only really become apparent next week in the Estadio Monumental when River Plate host Atlético Nacional in the second leg, but after a first leg, where at times Marcelo Gallardo’s side looked up against it, they now are a step closer to capturing the title.
Of course there are no away goals in the Copa Sudamericana but with River’s impressive home record they will be confident that they can find the victory which will bring the first continental trophy to the Monumental since the Supercopa in 1997.
It did not look like it would be this way after the opening 45 minutes where their Colombian hosts played with far more intensity and were an almost constant threat. A couple of earlier close shaves and a thorough examination of youngster, Emanuel Mammana in at right back, were survived before the deadlock was finally broken in the 34th minute.
The talented Edwin Cardona was the architect as his beautifully weighted pass freed the pacy, Orlando Berrío in behind Leonel Vangioni and despite the acute angle, Berrío steered his shot past Marcelo Barovero and inside the far post.
River were on the ropes but made it to the break where once more Gallardo managed to galvanise his troops and set them up for a much improved second half.
As River started to see more of the ball and press Nacional, chances began to open and eventually in the 66th minute, they found the precious equaliser. Leonardo Pisculichi manouvered a pocket of space 25 yards from goal and his fiercely struck left footed shot bounced awkwardly in front of goalkeeper, Franco Armani who could only palm the ball into the bottom corner.
The equalising goal, in spite of there being no away advantage, could be worth its weight in gold, certainly if the second leg produces another nervy, tight encounter. Nacional pushed on in an effort to force a first leg advantage but the closest they came was a header from Cardona which rattled Barovero’s crossbar.
In addition to the valuable scoreline, River welcomed back midfield sensation, Matías Kranevitter, who was a late substitute. His early return from the metatarsal injury sustained only games into the season is a welcome boost.
The final is still in the balance but River have not lost a game in this season’s Copa Sudamericana and are always a very different proposition in the Monumental. They have had to wait sometime for continential glory but next Wednesday the wait might be over.