River Plate clinch Copa Libertadores final spot despite defeat to Boca Juniors (VIDEO)

Time is surely ticking on Marcelo Gallardo’s reign at River Plate. Even in defeat at La Bombonera on Tuesday evening, the man supporters call Napoleón led his side to yet another Copa Libertadores final. For the third time in five years and with ten trophies already in the cabinet, Boca and the rest of South America are counting the days for Gallardo to depart.

River were far from their best but leading 2-0 from the first leg are rarely in any real trouble as Boca toiled and only really threatened from the occasional set-piece.

Eight times Gallardo has taken his side to La Bombonera and only ever lost once. Where Boca once lauded their continental triumphs over their bitter rivals, Gallardo has begun to turn the tide and while the number of international titles is still firmly in favour of those in blue and gold, last year’s victory in the final and elimination this year has created something of a Gallardo-complex for Boca.

Not for the first time for a Superclásico, affairs on the pitch failed to live up to pre-match build-up or atmosphere. The vibrant send off from thousands of River supporters as the team bus, with its heavy police escort, made its way across Buenos Aires and the explosion of blue and yellow as La Bombonera combusted before kick-off were everything expected from this clash.

That downpour of shredded paper as the teams made their way out onto the pitch led to a delay to kick-off as the leaf blowers frantically attempted to clear the pitch but the intimidating atmosphere made no difference to Gallardo’s side.

Too experienced and too good over the two legs, River did enough to simply see out the tie.

Gustavo Alfaro brought in Carlos Tevez in an attempt to rekindle some magic from years of old and Eduardo Salvio was fit to start but there was a lack of creativity from open play.

Salvio thought he had provided the breakthrough during the first half when a set-piece had fallen into his path but the officials spotted that it was the arm of Emmanuel Mas that diverted the ball and in truth Boca never really came much closer.

Those set-pieces were the threat and with ten minutes remaining Lisandro López headed across goal for Jan Hurtado to eventually bundle in. A grandstand finish however never materialised.

“I have an enormous happiness for the players, I have great joy and happiness for our people who must be very happy,” the ecstatic Marcelo Gallardo said at full-time.

“Playing a Copa Libertadores final, knocking Boca out again, I cannot be happier, it just cannot fit into my body. In order to reach a Copa Libertadores final, you also need to know how to suffer and well, today we suffered.”

Not as much as they perhaps should have done though. For all of Boca’s effort there wasn’t enough to hurt River and Gustavo Alfaro hinted that at the end of the year he will be done. Never quite the right fit, Alfaro, the ordinarily ‘smaller’ club coach paid for his cautious approach in the first leg and leaves Boca reflecting with envy at the era since River’s greatest humilation – relegation.

The turnaround has been meteoric and Gallardo has overseen the vast majority. Next month either Flamengo or Grêmio stand in the way of Copa Libertadores title number three and surely suitors will be hammering on the door for Muñeco.


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