Few would have foreseen a Copa Superliga semi final between Tigre and Atlético Tucumán but both sides managed to hold on to their first leg advantages by the finest of margins to progress past Racing Club and River Plate.
Relegated Tigre have maintained the form that almost saw them pull off a miraculous escape and after their 2-0 win over Superliga champions Racing at the weekend, had given themselves a real shot of reaching the semi finals. Naturally, La Academia’s response was resounding in Avellaneda and Eduardo Coudet’s side were immediately on the front foot to overturn the deficit.
The early blow of seeing Matías Zaracho limp off with an apparent hamstring injury was somewhat eased by Lucas Orban’s tremendous header after 20 minutes and Racing’s hopes were enhanced further by referee Mauro Vigliano opting not to show midfielder Pol Fernández a second yellow card for the clearest of fouls.
Boosted by this good fortune, Lisandro López pounced on a rebound to double the lead before the break and with that Tigre’s first leg advantage was gone.
Further injuries then dominated proceedings as Racing lost López and Nery Domínguez while Tigre too were forced into three substitutions – Néstor Moiraghi, Walter Montillo and Gerardo Alcoba all succumbing to knocks.
With Racing unable to find a decisive third the game appeared to be heading for penalties until the 89th minute. Diego Morales floated a ball to the back post, Matías Pérez Acuña chested it down and then unleashed a stinging volley from an acute angle inside Gabriel Arias’ near post.
The goal left Racing needing two and although Darío Cvitanich came close to one, heading against the crossbar in stoppage time, La Academia slumped out of the tournament.
Eduardo Coudet bemoaned the cup competition after such an arduous league campaign and while the debate over an additional tournament is valid, fatigue from the shortest of ‘long’ seasons playing a factor isn’t one of the arguments; the stupidity of relegated Tigre now in the semi finals and three games away from Copa Libertadores qualification when their ninth-placed Superliga finish wasn’t deemed good enough for a Copa Sudamericana spot, certainly is.
Racing Club 2 – 1 Tigre (AGG 2-3)
If Racing’s task proved just too much then River Plate’s was even greater after falling to a 3-0 defeat in Tucumán on Saturday. Marcelo Gallardo’s side have proved time and time again that they can never be counted out in cup competition but despite their valiant attempts and a thoroughly deserved victory in the Monumental, Atlético progressed courtesy of a solitary away goal.
Playing with an intensity that was evidently too much for Atlético at times, River immediately began hammering at the door and pulled their first goal back after quarter of an hour, beautifully worked and eventually flicked nonchalantly into the net by Ignacio Fernández.
Amid a flurry of further chances, a strong claim for a penalty and Exequiel Palacios looping a header against the inside of the post, Atlético had just done enough to show they still posed some threat on the counter with Franco Armani denying David Barbona.
Avoiding that away goal was vital and before the break Lucas Pratto slipped in River’s second making the comeback look all the more probable.
Until five minutes after the restart anyway when for the second time in this time, Javier Toledo wrigged into space at a corner and prodded the ball in from close range unmarked. River’s inability to defend the set-piece would prove costly.
No lack of belief in spite of being back to square one saw Matías Suárez swiftly score River’s third of the night but some last ditch defending, courageous goalkeeping and Rafael Santos Borré heading against the crossbar meant the home side’s momentum was slowed.
Pratto headed a fourth five minutes from time to set up a grandstand finish but unable to find a fifth, Toledo’s scrappy effort sealed it for Atlético.
The first leg of an unlikely semi final against Tigre takes place on Saturday in Victoria.
River Plate 4 – 1 Atlético Tucumán (AGG 4-4) Atlético win on away goals