The Copa Libertadores champions meeting the winners of the Copa Sudamericana provides an early opportunity for silverware in 2018 and that remains very much in the balance after an exciting first leg in Avellaneda ended 1-1 between Grêmio and Independiente.
Ariel Holan will certainly feel that his team can get a result in Porto Alegre next week after being forced to play with ten men from the 27th minute due to Emmanuel Gigliotti’s red card.
Referee Roddy Zambrano referring to VAR and eventually sending off Gigliotti for an elbow on Walter Kannemann capped off a disastrous five-minute spell that had seen Independiente go behind against the run of play. El Rojo had started brightly and should perhaps have led following Maxi Meza’s header against the crossbar, Nicolás Domingo going close from range and Martín Benítez stabbing wide from close range.
However, a misplaced pass by Fernando Amorebieta presented Luan with a glorious opportunity and the Copa Libertadores hero made no mistake in steering the ball past Martín Campaña with 21 minutes on the clock.
Despite trailing to the Libertadores champions and being down to ten men, Independiente continued to cause Grêmio problems through the pace of Martín Benítez and Jonathan Menéndez and weren’t behind for long.
The impressive Fernando Gaibor, on his first start for the club, swung over a free-kick from the left and with perhaps the faintest of touches off Bruno Cortez, the ball bounced past goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe.
Understandably as time ticked on and Independiente tired, Grêmio threatened more but aside from a superb last-ditch challenge by Amorebieta and Campaña saving from Cicero, the Brazilians failed to carve open many clear opportunities.
There were plenty of positives for Independiente to take from the draw and the Recopa is poised delicately ahead of next week’s second leg at the Arena do Grêmio.