Despite a tense and even opening 45 minutes, Independiente ran out comfortable winners against Belgrano in Avellaneda in the first of the Copa Libertadores playoff semi-finals. Goals from Diego Vera (2), Martín Benítez and Cristian Rodríguez overturned the visitors early opener and put Mauricio Pellegrino’s side into the final where either local rivals, Racing or Gabi Milito’s Estudiantes await.
Independiente coach Mauricio Pellegrino was for the first time able to name virtually his strongest starting eleven with Federico Mancuello and Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez both fit. However, in spite of the attacking firepower available the vulnerability to the counter attack was still evident and after only five minutes, Belgrano took the lead. Emiliano Rigoni ran from halfway and laid the ball into the path of Fernando Márquez, who made no mistake in sweeping the ball past Diego Rodríguez.
The home side appeared a little rattled but ten minutes before the break, Diego Vera hauled them level. The Uruguayan centre-forward’s initial header was spilled by Juan Carlos Olave and Vera was left with the simple task of smashing the ball into the net from just a few yards.
Unfortunately for El Rojo it wasn’t all good news as a minute later Federico Mancuello landed awkwardly on his ankle and his comeback from injury was over. It is not clear the extent of the captain’s injury but he will be a major doubt for the final.
Independiente looked the more threatening after half-time with Belgrano happy to defend and play on the break but the next goal was going to be crucial. Fortunately for the home side that goal came even if it was unintentional and it swung the momentum well and truly in their favour. Martín Benítez drove to the byline and his left footed cross drifted over the head of Olave and dropped into the net to give El Rojo the lead.
Belgrano didn’t have time to feel hard done by because a minute later the match was effectively over. Benítez won the ball back near halfway and slipped a throughball into the path of Vera, who rounded Olave with ease and passed the ball into the empty net.
El Rojo were enjoying themselves and in the 83rd minute a superb passing move was eventually bundled over the line by Cebolla Rodríguez. Independiente were comfortably into the final but Pellegrino will have one further selection after Jesús Méndez was shown a second yellow card for removing his shirt at full-time. The influential midfielder will miss the first leg of the final against either Racing or Estudiantes.