For the first time in months River Plate showed the type of resolve associated with a club of its stature and thanks to this rediscovered spirit, an outstanding goalkeeper in Franco Armani and Boca Juniors own dip in form, Marcelo Gallardo’s side lifted the Supercopa Argentina in Mendoza.
The Supercopa may be a relatively new title, pitting the league champions against the Copa Argentina winners, but the fact that it paired Boca Juniors against River Plate made this years fixture genuinely captivating.
Neither side arrived in Mendoza at their best, with Boca top of the table but a shadow of the side from the first half of the season and River in such torrid form that even the great Marcelo Gallardo was facing serious questions.
In spite of this, Boca’s ability in recent weeks to grind out victories made them favourites to pile further pressure on their fierce rivals. However, as the pre-match build up served to remind, form goes out the window for a clásico.
And so it proved as River produced their best performance since last year to stun Boca.
That isn’t to say Gallardo’s side were anywhere near back to their best as Boca enjoyed greater possession and created the better chances but on the few occasions, Los Xeneizes’ disjointed attack did find a way through, River goalkeeper Franco Armani was equal to everything thrown at him.
Boca started brighter without fashioning any chances but after 18 minutes it was River that led when Edwin Cardona carelessly clipped Ignacio Fernández as the midfielder burst into the penalty box and the fit-again Gonzalo Martínez sent Agustín Rossi the wrong way from the spot.
The game remained scrappy as misplaced passes and tetchy fouls took over in true clásico style but after half time, Boca began to turn the screw and River’s defence, which has struggled so badly in recent weeks, was put under severe pressure.
A finger-tip save from Armani pushed a Cristian Pavón header onto the crossbar and a minute later, a strong hand denied Paolo Goltz.
But the key moment came around 20 minutes from time as Armani produced a double stop to keep out Frank Fabra and Nahitan Nández and immediately after River broke through a much improved Nacho Fernández, Pity Martínez cut the ball back and substitute Ignacio Scocco poked in a second.
Boca tried to find a way back but with Carlos Tevez dropping deep there was little penalty box presence and River held on with relative ease.
It may only be the Supercopa and Boca remain favourites to defend their league title but for River the positives were clear. Armani proved he was the goalkeeper that the club needed, Gonzalo Martínez returned from injury to provide creativity, Nacho Fernández rediscovered his form and importantly the team showed the fight that has yielded such success under Gallardo.
Victory over Boca is always a reason to celebrate but for River it could also prove to be the foundation for a fresh start and a change in fortune.