Three may still be four as River Plate, Boca Juniors and Racing Club all booked their places in the Copa Libertadores last 16 this week. Primera Nacional Tigre’s dreams were finally extinguished but with a game still remaining in the group stage may yet see Defensa y Justicia join the grandes despite a disappointing defeat in Ecuador.
The hyperbole of Argentina’s media aside, River Plate have emerged from six months of quarantine in tremendous fashion and on Wednesday night, Marcelo Gallardo’s ‘new’ star Julián Álvarez struck twice to send São Paulo packing.
Taking full advantage of his place in the starting eleven, Álvarez took his tally to four goals in three games with a first half brace of real quality either side of Diego Costa’s headed equaliser. São Paulo were in Avellaneda needing victory to keep their hopes alive with Liga de Quito out in front of Group D but River fittingly daubed in their new red kit at the home of Independiente weathered late pressure to put the Brazilians to the sword.
River host the Ecuadorians back at the Estadio Libertadores de América on October 20th in the knowledge that another win takes top spot in the group.
Two wins from two since the restart had all but confirmed Boca’s progress and while the six times winners couldn’t make it three wins, a goalless draw was sufficient.
The 2-0 win in Paraguay was crucial for Boca taking top spot and Libertad earning a point in La Bombonera on Tuesday could go a long way towards helping them sneak second. Goalkeeper Martín Silva denied Boca victory on their first home game since March but Miguel Ángel Russo will still have been pleased by some of the interplay between Carlos Tevez and Eduardo Salvio and no one will want to face Boca in the last 16.
Racing Club will also be there after a 2-1 win over Nacional in Montevideo. Two weeks ago in Avellaneda a penalty gave the away side victory and on Wednesday La Academia took revenge with Héctor Fértoli scoring from the spot fifteen minutes from time to take home the points.
Nicolás Reniero had pounced on a defensive error to give Racing a first half lead but an unfortunate Alexis Soto own goal after the break looked as though it could leave Sebastián Beccacece’s side frustrated once more against the Uruguayans. However, a clumsy challenge from goalkeeper Sergio Rochet gifted an opportunity and Fértoli gratefully snapped it up.
Racing and Nacional sit level on points atop Group F, equal on goal difference and goals scored so the last round of fixtures with La Academia and Nacional hosting Estudiantes de Mérida and Alianza Lima respectively will decide the winners.
Defensa y Justicia were hardly expected to join the three grandes but Olimpia’s earlier defeat to Santos left the door open for Hernán Crespo’s side. It has not yet been slammed shut as El Halcón still have another shot in a couple of weeks but a 3-0 defeat to Delfín wasted a golden opportunity.