2015 winners River Plate booked a place in the Copa Libertadores semi-final against defending champions Grêmio after overcoming Independiente at the Monumental on Tuesday evening. A 3-1 win sealed it for River while Grêmio made light work of Atlético Tucumán in Porto Alegre to wrap up a conclusive 6-0 aggregate scoreline.
The goalless draw in Avellaneda two weeks ago had left the all-Argentine quarter final delicately poised and while River came into the game with an unbeaten run since February, a dangerous Independiente only required a score-draw to progress.
Ariel Holan’s side frustrated River during a nervy opening 45 minutes and while the home side enjoyed superiority with the ball, it was Independiente left most frustrated from the goalless first half.
Javier Pinola’s 26th minute clearance saw the defender follow through, studs raised and catch Martín Benítez above the knee, a challenge that many felt warranted a red card and a penalty. Referee Anderson Daronco took his time and sought advice from the fourth official but eventually decided not to punish River.
And after that somewhat controversial and tense first half, the game sparked to life.
Independiente manager Ariel Holan rolled the dice and introduced centre-forward Emmanuel Gigliotti, a move that immediately opened the game. In an instant, a promising Independiente counter saw River break straight back and Ignacio Scocco swept in the opening goal.
River’s lead lasted less than ten minutes and again Gigliotti was instrumental. Turning Pinola and beating Jonathan Maidana for pace, the striker’s low shot was spilled by Franco Armani and Silvio Romero pounced on the rebound.
The away goal now meant it was Independiente ahead but that too didn’t last long. El Rojo lost the ball in midfield and as it bobbled into the path of Juan Fernando Quintero, the Colombian advanced on the penalty area to slot in River’s second.
Independiente now needed another and with the counter attack more open than ever, River wrapped up victory. Nicolás De La Cruz found Rafael Santos Borré and the 23-year-old curled a superb finish past Martín Campaña.
Ariel Holan admitted that his side had been second best to River but will no doubt look back on the narrow misses in Avellaneda and the Pinola incident on Tuesday and wonder of what might have been.
River Plate 3 – 1 Independiente (AGG 3-1)
For River it is another Libertadores semi final and having dispatched of both Avellaneda clubs, Los Millonarios will now face champions Grêmio for a place in the final.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg Grêmio were firm favourites in Porto Alegre and as Atlético Tucumán looked to upset the odds once again, during the opening stages the Brazilians were rightfully a tad concerned.
El Decano even being in a Copa Libertadores quarter final is an achievement in itself but unable to pull a goal back and really increase the pressure, Grêmio were eventually able to pull away.
Luan eventually opened the scoring on the night and when Atlético had goalkeeper Cristian Lucchetti sent off in the same incident that saw Cícero double the lead from the penalty spot, the tie was over.
Two further second half goals gave Grêmio an emphatic victory but an aggregate scoreline that did little to suggest the troubles that Atlético caused.
Grêmio 4 – 0 Atlético Tucumán (AGG 6-0)