River Plate needed to ride their luck a little last week in Medellín but yesterday back in El Monumental there were scenes of wild celebration as Marcelo Gallardo’s side were crowned Copa Sudamericana champions for the first time in the club’s history. Identical second half headers from defenders, Gabriel Mercado and Germán Pezzella sealed the 2-0 victory over Atlético Nacional to end a long 17-year wait since River last won an international title.
Having prioritised the Copa Sudamericana, largely due to the draw pitting River against Boca Juniors in the Semi Final, at the expense of the league, there was a significant amount of added pressure. The lead in the league was sacrificed to Racing and had River been beaten last night, it would have left Los Millonarios empty handed and a little red faced.
Nacional proved themselves to be worthy competitors once again and although the first half was a nervy affair, littered with fouls, both sides had opportunites to break the deadlock.
However, ten minutes after the interval it was River who drew first blood, and as has so often been the case this season it was the left foot of Leonardo Pisculichi that delivered the telling ball.
His out-swinging corner from the left found the head of Gabriel Mercado and his powerful header bounced beyond Franco Armani into the corner. Four minutes later, the delivery from Pisculichi was identical and this time young centre back, Germán Pezzella profitted.
The quick-fire double knocked the wind out of their Colombian opponents and River were able to keep them at arms length to see out the victory.
The triumph sees Gallardo add a second trophy to his CV, following his Uruguayan title with Nacional and he was quick to praise his players:
“Thanks to the players for playing the game the way it should be played. I offer a toast to the team. I feel very proud for having come to this club, for having started as a player here and grown as a person.’
There is still a chance that River could celebrate a historic double but they will need Racing to falter in their final match at home to Godoy Cruz and River still need to defeat Quilmes away.
River Plate 2 – 0 Atlético Nacional (AGG 3-1)