Neither side fielded what will be considered their first choice elevens come February but for Independiente it was one of those players trying to force his way into Mauricio Pellegrino’s plans that proved the difference. Claudio Aquino has struggled since his arrival from Godoy Cruz but on Monday night in Mar del Plate, the attacking midfielder produced his best performance for El Rojo and helped Independiente come from behind to defeat River Plate by three goals to two.
Colombian defender Eder Álvarez Balanta bundled River into the lead after 20 minutes when Pity Martínez’s inswinging free-kick had been helped on by a couple of deflections but El Rojo were back level shortly after. There didn’t appear to be a great deal of danger when Aquino picked up the ball close to the corner of the penalty area but the 24-year-old appeared to catch River debutant Agusto Batalla by surprise. The well struck shot flew past the Argentina under-20 goalkeeper and into the far corner to tie the match up.
Both managers began making changes as the second half progressed and the introduction of Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez provided an instant impact. The Uruguayan drove to the byline and drilled a low cross across the six-yard box for Aquino to tap in his second.
With less than ten minutes remaining, Víctor Cuesta nodded in a third from Aquino’s pull back and although Leonardo Pisculichi added an injury time goal for River it proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
Marcelo Gallardo was celebrating his 40th birthday and will be pleased his side came through without any injury but aware of where they must be improve. For Independiente, it may well have been the final game of Martín Benítez, who looks set to move to Galatasaray, and that will be a blow to Pellegrino. It is likely that both sides will be quite different from those that started in Mar del Plata when they kick off the season in a few weeks.