Lucas Alario proved once again to be the man for the big occasions on Thursday night in Córdoba as the 24-year-old struck a hat-trick against Rosario Central in the Copa Argentina final to hand River Plate the title and an invaluable spot in the 2017 Copa Libertadores.
Just as the superclásico surprised on Sunday, few could have predicted a Copa Argentina final of such excitement. Rosario Central would have been hoping for some luck after the controversial refereeing performance that crowned Boca Juniors as champions last year but after eleven minutes, Eduardo Coudet and his players felt as though history were repeating itself.
Teo Gutiérrez felt he had a strong claim for a penalty after being dragged to the turf at a corner but as Patricio Loustau waved any appeals away, River went up the other end and Nacho Fernández was tripped by Damián Musto. This time Loustau pointed to the spot and Lucas Alario made no mistake in sending Sebastián Sosa the wrong way.
Central felt a sense of injustice, obviously heightened after two consecutive final defeats, but were gifted a way back into the match by River’s young goalkeeper Augusto Batalla. The Argentina under-20 international came under fire for his display in the superclásico and while he wanted a free kick awarded, in truth his attempt to claim a high ball was weak and the fumble allowed Musto to roll the ball into an unguarded net.
Marco Ruben then put Central ahead with a moment of genuine quality as he plucked a Teo Gutiérrez cross out of the air and steered the ball past Batalla but further controversy wasn’t far away. Shortly before half time, Loustau awarded River a second penalty after adjudging Alario to have been pulled back Dylan Gissi. There didn’t look a great deal in it on first glance and replays only made Loustau’s decision worse. However, for the second time of the night, Alario tucked the ball into the bottom corner.
Tempers flared at half time and while there was plenty of debate over several decision in the first 45 minutes, there was no doubt over how enthralling the final was proving to be.
Close to the hour mark, Ruben bagged his second of the match to give Central the lead but while the striker’s first was down to his exquisite first touch, this owed much to another error by Batalla. The 20-year-old failed to hold Jonás Aguirre’s low shot and Ruben was on hand to bundle the ball over the line.
Just as he did in the superclásico, Marcelo Gallardo replaced Andrés D’Alessandro but this time Uruguayan centre-forward Iván Alonso was introduced and his impact was immediate. The 37-year-old nodded the ball down for Alario to poke the ball over Sosa and complete his hat-trick only for minutes later the pair to switch roles and Alonso to stab the ball into the net for River’s fourth.
Central were desperate to avoid another final defeat but as their frustration grew it eventually boiled over and Ruben was shown a red card for a forearm smash on Lucas Martínez Quarta. El Canalla still piled forward in their effort to find an equaliser but River held firm to clinch the title.
River Plate 4 – 3 Rosario Central