Copa Libertadores: River Plate seal Superclásico semi-final with draw in Asunción (VIDEO)

The stage is set and battle lines drawn once more as Buenos Aires takes a deep breath in anticipation of what is to come. Boca Juniors comfortably booked their spot in the Copa Libertadores semi-final on Wednesday night and 24 hours later bitter rivals River Plate progressed past Cerro Porteño to join them and set up a repeat of last year’s controversial final.

It certainly wasn’t as straight-forward for River and after toiling in the electric atmosphere of La Olla it wasn’t until Nicolás De La Cruz thundered in a shot off the underside of the crossbar after 52 minutes that Marcelo Gallardo’s side could breathe a sigh of relief.

Leading 2-0 from last week’s first leg River were expected to keep Cerro Porteño at arm’s length despite the Paraguayans formidable home form but that went swiftly out the window as the home side got off to the perfect start.

Joaquín Larrivey’s cross from deep found the run of veteran striker Nélson Haedo Valdez and the 35-year-old expertly guided a header past Franco Armani.

Without the suspended Enzo Pérez to protect the back four, River were ragged and only a smart stop from Armani denied Federico Carrizo from levelling the tie.

VAR had provided some controversy in the first leg and during the first half in Asunción it again played its role with Robert Rojas avoiding punishment for a possible handball in the penalty box and goalscorer Haedo fortunate not to see red for a studs up challenge on Exequiel Palacios.

It’s not often that perennial winner Marcelo Gallardo looks uneasy but the River coach would have been concerned by the opening 45 minutes. That however changed soon after the break. Matías Suárez got in behind the Cerro Porteño backline and although his initial effort was blocked the ball dropped to De La Cruz, arriving at speed on the edge of the box. The Uruguayan was arrested a day earlier for an incident in Asuncion back in 2016 while still playing for Liverpool’s under-20s but put that behind him to fire in an unstoppable first-time shot.

The away goal all but killed off the tie with Cerro Porteno requiring three and while Buenos Aires had already begun planning for the Superclásico semi-final it was now confirmed.

This Sunday the pair meet in a Superliga dress rehearsal but the world waits anxiously for October when the enemies will lock horns again in South America’s greatest competition.

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