Racing hadn’t won in the Estadio Libertadores de América, the home of bitter local rivals Independiente, since 2001 but on Sunday afternoon La Academia celebrated a vital 2-0 victory in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores playoff. Qualification for the continent’s premier cup competition meant this clásico had even greater significance and two goals in three first half minutes from Gustavo Bou and Óscar Romero ensured that Racing have a foot in the Libertadores ahead of next week’s second leg.
In the build-up to the match much was made of the players that both sides were missing; Racing had Diego Milito ruled out after his red card against Estudiantes while Independiente were without Federico Mancuello through injury and Jesús Méndez as a result of his ludicrous red card for removing his shirt after the semi-final victory against Belgrano.
Despite the absences there was little between the two sides and it was perhaps the home side who were shading it up until the 36th minute. The tie turned on its head after a long punt downfield from Racing goalkeeper Sebastián Saja which ended up at the feet of Gustavo Bou. The dangerous centre-forward, who may well be leaving Avellaneda this window, turned away from Hernán Pellerano before nut-megging Víctor Cuesta and slotting the ball past Diego Rodríguez.
With the home supporters silenced and the players still in shock, Racing doubled the lead. El Rojo failed to clear a free-kick and when the ball fell to Paraguayan Óscar Romero on the edge of the box, the 23-year-old took a touch before firing a snap-shot in off the foot of the post.
These two efforts proved to be Racing’s only attempts on target but even with Independiente pushing for a way back into the game, they failed to really work Saja.
It could have perhaps been worse for El Rojo after Diego Rodríguez was sent off just five minutes into the second half. The Uruguayan has missed much of the season after breaking his leg but was brought back into the side to replace Méndez. His forceful challenge on Bou was deemed worthy of a straight red by referee Germán Delfino but Racing were not able to extend their lead further.
The two sides meet again on Saturday in the Cilindro but it would take one of the clásicos famous victories for Independiente to overturn the deficit. Méndez proved to be a huge loss for El Rojo in the centre of midfield and although he will be available once more, it is perhaps too late.