Emiliano Rigoni’s place in the Independiente starting eleven was something of a surprise given his imminent transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg but the 24-year-old played his part as El Rojo booked their place in the Copa Sudamericana last 16 with victory over Deportes Iquique.
It is fair to say that despite winning the tie 6-3 on aggregate, Independiente made hard work of seeing off their spirited but ultimately inferior opponents and for much of the first half on Wednesday evening, looked as though they might let Iquique back in.
The two late goals in Avellaneda last month carelessly gifted Iquique a lifeline and with Fernando Amorebieta making his debut in a new look back four, El Rojo were initially all at sea. This allowed Manuel Villalobos to slot in an early goal and with the aggregate lead cut to one, Ariel Holan’s side were looking on edge.
Emiliano Rigoni and Ezequiel Barco ensured that Independiente remained a threat on the counter but this was far from the level of performances that put four past Iquique in the opening 45 minutes of the first leg.
However, when Maxi Meza headed in from a Barco corner, the game swung back in favour of El Rojo and from that point there was only one winner.
Meza and Nery Domínguez began pulling strings in midfield and were it not for a host of glorious missed chances, El Rojo could have really stuck the knife in. Instead, it was left to substitute Lucas Albertengo to slot in the winner and wrap up a conclusive aggregate win.
Atlético Tucumán are up next in the last 16 but Independiente will be without the influential Rigoni, who confirmed his departure at full time. Although the 24-year-old didn’t mention Zenit specifically, Rigoni spoke glowingly of his time in Avellaneda and stated, “If I return to a club in Argentina, it will be Independiente or Belgrano [his former club]. There will be no other.”