For all River Plate’s chaotic preparation ahead of Wednesday evening’s Copa Argentina semi against Gimnasia, this year’s final looked more than likely to have a familiar feel with two-time defending champions River favourites to meet four-times beaten finalists Rosario Central. However, El Lobo had other plans and after twice cancelling out River goals to draw 2-2 in Mar del Plata, Gimnasia upset the odds with a penalty shootout victory.
Jonathan Maidana’s wayward effort in sudden death handed Gimnasia victory and left even more riding on the controversial Copa Libertadores final, as River Plate’s alternative route into the 2019 tournament was closed.
Few would have tipped Gimnasia to surprise River and even less when Gonzalo Martínez gave Marcelo Gallardo’s side the lead after half an hour. The possibly Atlanta United-bound star’s free-kick squeezed through the wall and appeared too catch goalkeeper Alexis Arias by surprise but a handling error at one end was soon matched at the other. Franco Armani, River’s rock throughout 2018, fumbled an initial effort on goal and Lorenzo Faravelli poked in an equaliser.
Both sides continued to create chances yet the momentum swung back in favour of River when Ezequiel Bonifacio was sent off before half time and the action showed no signs of easing after the restart.
Lucas Pratto burst clear to slot River back in front two minutes into the second half and then Javier Pinola levelled things up, prompting referee Facundo Tello to show a red card for a forearm smash on Maximiliano Coronel.
Ten against ten it was still River who looked more likely to score, Exequiel Palacios particularly guilty of wasting a clear opportunity. And that proved costly when former Boca Juniors centre forward Santiago Silva rose to head past Armani and bring Gimnasia level for a second time.
River were unable to find a third before the final whistle was blown and with no extra-time, the tie was to be decided at the spot. Santiago Silva smashing in and Lucas Pratto chipping against the crossbar handed Gimnasia an early advantage only for Franco Armani to save from Víctor Ayala as the two sides still couldn’t be separated.
However, 4-4 in sudden death, Germán Guiffrey slotted in for Pedro Troglio’s side and Jonathan Maidana skied River’s subsequent penalty.
Gimnasia against Rosario Central will see a new name on the Copa Argentina and a somewhat unfamiliar face in the 2019 Copa Libertadores leaving River Plate praying for a positive resolution from the Superclásico.