Copa Libertadores final: Observations from the stadium and the price of a good result for River

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With the Copa Libertadores final first leg complete, our man in Monterrey, Felix Rodrigues Lima reflects on what he saw last night in the Volcán….

MONTERREY, Mex. – River’s players and coaches came into Wednesday’s match saying they would pursue the victory. Although they fell a little bit short of that, they return to Buenos Aires today content with the 0-0 draw that means a victory next Wednesday against Tigres in the return leg delivers the third Copa Libertadores to Nuñez.

The draw did not come cheap, however. Gabriel Mercado, who is a consistent target for Los Millo in set pieces in addition to his stalwart defense, drew a yellow card in Wednesday’s match, meaning he will miss the return leg.

Injuries to Tabaré Viudez and Rodrigo Mora suffered in the first half, prompting them to be substituted at half-time, make them a doubt for Wednesday’s match. And coach Marcelo Gallardo was notified he will be suspended for the match as well, after he was sent off with 15 minutes to go.

River showed some initiative in fits and spurts against Tigres, with probably the best chance at putting one past Nahuél Guzmán coming off a corner kick about twelve minutes in. The ball eventually fell to Mercado’s feet in the box, and as he shot, it bounced off the Tigres defense and safely into Guzman’s hands.

Tigres had more chances to contemplate and will wonder what would have happened had one gone in. There was the cross from Egidio Arévalo Rios deflected by River’s Leonel Vangioni that rang off the crossbar in the 17th, followed by the point-blank header by Rafael Sobis that went straight to Marcelo Barovero’s hands in the 20th.

Several other chances for Tigres in the second half, including a one-on-one for Jurgen Damm against Barovero where Damm held on to the ball for too long before the River defense recovered and cleared with five minutes to go, went begging as well.

Damm vs. Vangioni was one of the key matchups of the game. Damm was getting the better of Vangioni early on, including drawing a yellow card for the River defender in the third minute, but after Vangioni’s clearance that went off the crossbar, he grew into the game, posing problems for the promising Mexican winger.

River definitely felt the effects of extreme heat in the Volcán. But although they may have bent a few times, most importantly, they did not break. A crowd nearing 45,000 had a few moments where they were ready to explode if Barovero’s goal had been breached.

Sitting in the press room next to the player’s tunnel, journalists from around the world resorted to watching the broadcast on a ten-second delay. I found myself knowing a long, drawn out cheer likely meant a Tigres goal before I could see it for myself. But thankfully for River, that big scream from the Mexican faithful never came, leaving the home fans awfully apprehensive about their chances in the return leg.

And now it will be time for River’s faithful to see if they can cheer the lads on to a win and the championship. Tigres boss Ricardo “Tuca” Ferreti stressed the words River’s Daniel Passarella told him: “You don’t play against the stadium.”

He’s right. You play the 11 in front of the goal. And those 11 got what they needed in Mexico: a positive result that could propel them to hoist the trophy next week.

Felix Rodrigues Lima works as a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. His parents are from Argentina (dad follows River, mom follows Boca) and although it’s been too long since his last visit, he is known to enjoy parrilladas and Havana alfajores from time to time. Follow him @FelixReports.

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