With a foot in the Copa Libertadores final already, River Plate secured a spot in the Copa Argentina semi-final on Friday evening with a routine victory over giant killers Almagro.
Had it not been for the upset of the Primera Nacional side knocking out Boca Juniors, the Copa Argentina would have hosted another Superclásico ahead of River and Boca’s Libertadores semi-final second leg, but Marcelo Gallardo’s side ensured that it was the end of the road for Almagro.
Argentina not calling up River or Boca players meant Gallardo could pick almost the same side that defeated Boca a week or so ago with the only change seeing Nacho Scocco replace Matías Suárez up front.
And while Almagro would have hoped to frustrate River and keep things tight, that strategy went almost immediately out the window.
A fine sweeping move with only six minutes on the clock resulted in Nacho Fernández hitting the crossbar and Rafael Santos Borré was on hand to tap in the rebound.
It should have been two when Scocco struck the inside of the post when through on goal but with the scoreline still only 1-0, Almagro did have at least a moment, Franco Armani forced to make a good stop to deny Facundo Suárez.
The next goal would clearly be decisive but even without the ball hitting either net, moments after half time the tie swung firmly in River’s favour as Nicolás Arrechea pulled down Santos Borré bearing down on goal for a straight red card.
River’s eleven against Almagro’s ten meant it was even more one-sided than before and it wasn’t long before Fernández clipped a ball over the top for Scocco to double the lead.
Victory was all but secured and so Gallardo was able to give supporters further reason to cheer. First Lucas Pratto came off the bench, the centre-forward still trying to get back to full fitness, and then the moment everyone was waiting for – the return of Juan Fernando Quintero. Over six months out with a knee injury, River welcomed back the sublime Colombian playmaker and almost immediately the wand-like left boot was threatening the Almagro goal.
A trademark free-kick clawed away from under the crossbar by goalkeeper Christian Limousin almost gave Quintero the dream return but River held on for a comfortable win and with the number ten and club captain Leonardo Ponzio also back, it was a perfect evening for the Millonarios.
Colón or Estudiantes de Buenos Aires await in the semi-final but River are now favourites to lift the trophy and are a game away from a third final in four years.