For all of Club Atlético River Plate’s 118 illustrious years no man has arguably left a greater impression than Marcelo Gallardo and on Thursday evening as Los Millonarios defeated Athletico Paranaense to lift the Recopa Sudamericana, El Muñeco claimed his tenth title as coach surpassing Ramón Díaz as River’s most successful manager of all-time.
A winner of the Copa Libertadores as a player in 1996, Gallardo has been a sensation since arriving back at the Monumental as manager and in his five years in charge, the clubs fortunes on an international scale have been transformed. A point of contention for River in contrast to rivals Boca Juniors had always been their success in continental competition yet in such a relatively short space of time, Gallardo has more than doubled the club’s tally.
Despite trailing from the first leg another River comeback was expected and after the crowd trouble that marred the 2018 Copa Libertadores final denied the vast majority of supporters the opportunity to celebrate with the team last December, the Monumental was able to revel in another triumph.
The difference from one week earlier in Coritiba was clear from the outset. While River floundered in Brazil and were fortunate to only be a goal behind, they were rampant in the Monumental and immediately on the front foot.
Nacho Fernández rattled the post with a clear chance and Lucas Pratto drew a wonderful save from Santos as River’s opener looked only a matter of time.
And yet there was still a warning sign for River, only a splendid point-blank block by Franco Armani denied Lucho González from close range in a half in which Athletico struggled to get any sort of grip on the game.
The half time break made no change to the dynamic but it took a spot of good fortune for River to finally break the deadlock. Athletico failed to clear a corner and as Javier Pinola volleyed the ball goalward, it struck the arm of Lucho González promoting referee Roberto Tobar to check VAR and eventually award the penalty. Nacho Fernández saw his effort saved by Santos but the ball squirmed back across goal off the post and the midfielder was on hand to turn in the rebound.
With the tie heading to extra-time, River continued to probe for a winner and in stoppage time they found it. Matías Suárez clipped a pass over the top, Lucas Pratto peeled off Leo Pereira, controlled the ball beautifully and emphatically finished.
Pratto may have made a slow start to life at River after his record breaking move but his Copa Libertadores goals against Boca Juniors and now a decisive winner in the Recopa make El Oso, one of the club’s greatest acquisitions.
Athletico pushed to find an equaliser of their own and were undone by a long boot upfield by Armani, releasing Suárez who skipped round Santos to wrap up the win.
Three Recopa titles in a little over four years evidence of just how dominant River have been under Gallardo and it is testament to Napoleón’s achievements that the rest of the continent prays that Europe comes calling sooner rather than later.
— Recopa Sudamericana (@RecopaConmebol) May 31, 2019