Copa Libertadores Final second leg preview: River and Tigres desperate to make history

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In just some hours the iconic Estadio Monumental will be a cauldron of red and white, fit to burst with noise and passion as River Plate host Mexican side Tigres to decide this year’s Copa Libertadores. Tied at 0-0 after the first leg in Monterrey and following two further draws when they met in the group stage, there must be a winner this evening – River look to banish the nightmare of relegation just four years ago with a third title, while Tigres seek to become the first Mexican side to win the Libertadores.

River’s very presence in the final is in someway indebted to Tigres as it was the Liga MX side that surprisingly dominated group 6 and that defeated Juan Aurich on the final day to ensure that Los Millonarios could qualify to the knockout stages with victory over San Jose. Marcelo Gallardo’s side have improved significantly since then and importantly tightened up with the impressive Matías Kranevitter and Leonardo Ponzio shielding the defence. This defensive resolve was displayed last week when Tigres were the better side but could not find a way past Marcelo Barovero in the River goal. Rafael Sobis and Jürgen Damm missed the best opportunities but could not force a first leg advantage.

With home advantage in the second leg as a result of CONMEBOL stating that the Libertadores must be won in South America, River knew that the draw in Mexico was a good result. Even more so as away goals do not count in the final and the Monumental will be packed solely with River supporters.

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Tigres’ influential midfield engine, Egidio Arévalo Ríos knows that this match will be different and stressed the importance of his side taking their chances: “It will be different, the one who does it better, will win the game. We have to take advantage from the small goal opportunities that we’ll have.

“We are calm. We know that we will fight until the last minute. The group knows what we came for and what we are facing. So let them talk, we’ll see after the match.

“Us and them, we are with the same wish of gaining a title. We are facing a great opponent, it will be a hard match. I don’t want to anticipate, let’s see after the match if we can celebrate.”

River, therefore, are favourites but they too have their difficulties ahead of the second leg. Dependable right-back Gabriel Mercado is suspended after picking up a yellow card in Monterrey and his most obvious deputy, Emanuel Mammana was injured in training meaning Uruguyan Camilo Mayada will play in defence. It is not the most natural position for Mayada and Tigres have been boosted by the news that Mexican international Javier Aquino is fit again after missing the first leg. With French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac also available, Ricardo Ferretti has his strongest attack to choose from and if they perform as they did in the semi final against Internacional, River’s full-backs could be in for a tough evening. Youngster, Jürgen Damm was a constant threat a week ago and caused Leonel Vangioni all kind of problems; the 21-year-old will be looking to do the same again this evening and his pace will provide a real outlet on the break.

However, it is not only at right-back where Marcelo Gallardo needs to shuffle, after injuries to Uruguayan pair Rodrigo Mora and Tabaré Viudez. Mora’s goals have been vital and Viudez, despite only joining the club last month has already shown his importance with an exquisite assist for the crucial goal in the semi final. Another newcomer, Nicolás Bertolo and the experienced Fernando Cavenaghi will come into the side but River may miss the creativity and dynamism that the Uruguayans would have brought.

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In spite of this, the bookmakers still make River firm favourites and Marcelo Gallardo remains confident: “We have good feelings about the game, no matter which player is on the pitch, the match will be unique and memorable, to have the chance and the willing to win,”

Make no mistake though, Tigres are a dangerous opponent with quality throughout the side and an ability to vary how they approach the game – comfortable in possession but also able to play on the counter.

The Mexican have an eye on being the first Mexican side to claim the Copa Libertadores but they must do so against the odds. Both Mexican sides that have reached the final have failed, Cruz Azul on penalties to Boca Juniors in 2001 and Chivas against Internacional in 2010. On top of this, the ruling to play the second leg also plays into River’s hands. Los Millonarios have an incredibly strong home record with just one defeat in fifteen Libertadores matches and Tigres’ failure to take an advantage to Buenos Aires could cost them.

River Plate are favourites but after the fuse was lit last week in Monterrey it is burning down to tonight. There is no more room for error.

Kick-off is 10PM in Buenos Aires and this is how they are expected to line-up….

River Plate: Marcelo Barovero; Camilo Mayada, Jonathan Maidana, Ramiro Funes Mori, Leonel Vangioni; Carlos Sánchez, Matías Kranevitter, Leonardo Ponzio, Nicolás Bertolo; Lucas Alario, Fernando Cavenaghi

Tigres: Nahuel Guzmán; Israel Jiménez, Juninho, José Rivas, Jorge Torres Nilo; Jürgen Damm, Guido Pizarro, Egidio Arévalo Ríos, Javier Aquino or Damián Álvarez; Rafael Sobis, Andre-Pierre Gignac

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