Copa Libertadores: River Plate secure last 16 spot with victory over Palestino, Boca Juniors survive scare to all but join them & Central slump out (VIDEO)

The title defence has been far from convincing so far but Copa Libertadores champions River Plate secured their place in the last 16 on Wednesday evening with a 2-0 win over Palestino in Santiago.

Drawing the opening three games had seen Palestino steal an early advantage behind group leaders Internacional and since then River have been playing catch up. Victory in Chile and River were firmly back on track but defeat and the champions would have been staring at a possible first round exit.

And when the stakes are high, it is always foolish to bet against Marcelo Gallardo. A scrappy opening in the Estadio Monumental David Arellano eventually saw River take the lead, Javier Pinola escaping his marker to send a diving header past Ignacio González on the half hour mark.

While the lead was just one, it remained nervy but Ignacio Fernández settled things during the second half. Flicked in behind by Nicolás de la Cruz, goalkeeper González was sluggish off his line and after failing to claim the ball at the feet of Fernández the midfielder was left with the simplest of tap-ins.

Palestino ensured that River had to stay alert with Lucas Passerini hitting the crossbar but Julián Fernández seeing red soon after for a challenge on Enzo Pérez all but ended the contest.

Rafael Santos Borré being sent off late on for an off-the-ball clash the only downside for River, who had already seen Matías Suárez leave the field injured. Internacional’s victory in Lima ensured the Brazilians will take top spot in Group A and so their visit to Buenos Aires in two weeks has little riding on it.

Palestino  0 – 2  River Plate

Rivals Boca Juniors are virtually assured of their place in the next round too after coming from two-down to earn a vital point against Deportes Tolima meaning that only defeat and a huge swing in goal difference would deny Gustavo Alfaro’s side their progression.

A sensational opening 45 minutes in Ibagué saw Darío Benedetto almost give Boca the lead within the opening minute before Tolima struck back. Lisandro López caught in possession allowed Alex Castro to roll in the opener after 12 minutes and when Marco Pérez headed a second soon after, Boca were on the ropes staring at a result that would leave their Libertadores hopes in the balance.

However, Mauro Zárate, the standout player for Boca in recent weeks, dragged his side back into it brilliantly, playing a quick one-two with Benedetto before slotting the ball past Álvaro Montero.

It got better for Boca when Sergio Mosquera clumsily dragged down Nahitan Nández and Benedetto emphatically equalised from the penalty spot before the break.

Neither side could find a winner after half time and with Boca hosting Athletico Paranaense in two weeks, top spot in Group G is still up for grabs. Only a heavy defeat and Tolima earning a good win away to Jorge Wilstermann would stop Los Xeneizes now.

Deportes Tolima  2 – 2  Boca Juniors

It was less positive for Rosario Central but El Canalla’s Libertadores exit had been expected and that was confirmed on Wednesday with a 1-1 draw against Universidad Católica.

Without a win in the competition, Central were virtually out already and required two victories to stand any chance of turning things around. Diego Cocca’s side did manage perhaps their best performance and could have taken all three points but were instead held to a draw by a Universidad Católica side battling with Grêmio for second spot.

Despite Central’s brighter than usual start, the visitors led midway through the first half when César Fuentes fired in from the edge of the box and while it would have been easy to fold, the Rosarinos remained positive.

Having gone close on a number of occasions, Central eventually clawed their way level at a corner with José Pedro Fuenzalida eventually getting the final touch to help the ball into his own net.

The 1-1 draw ends any hope for Central and also ensures bottom spot in Group H so there is also no chance of Copa Sudamericana football coming to Rosario.

Rosario Central  1 – 1  Universidad Católica

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