River Plate’s place in the last 16 of this year’s Copa Libertadores was already secure but wanting to win Group D and avoid the possibility of meeting rivals Boca Juniors, Marcelo Gallardo’s side romped to a 3-0 win over Liga de Quito in Avellaneda.
Having suffered their only defeat in the competition in Quito back in March, River needed all three points to leapfrog the Ecuadorians and after a goalless first half in which both sides had good chances that by no means looked certain.
Injury to Nacho Fernández saw Santiago Sosa make a surprising appearance from the bench and while the ordinarily defensive midfielder didn’t appear the most natural replacement, Sosa was instrumental in River’s dominant second half display.
Rafael Santos Borré tapped in the opener shortly after the restart aided by goalkeeper Adrián Gabbarini flapping at a cross and a linesman failing to spot the Colombian’s offside position. Soon after the lead was doubled and once again it was Julián Álvarez, the 20-year-old clipping his fifth goal in four games over the onrushing keeper.
With victory already in the bag substitute Jorge Carrascal ran clear to add a third a minute from time and with it book River’s place in the last 16 as group winners. Friday’s draw can still provide some tricky ties for the Millonarios but avoiding Boca and other formidable first-place qualifiers was important.
It was less good news for Defensa y Justicia who were a few minutes away from joining River in the knockout stages before conceding a stoppage time goal to Santos.
The Brazilians had already topped Group G but despite losing to Delfín last time out, Defensa y Justicia knew that victory would be enough to progress in second.
When Braian Romero slid in the opener just after half time that looked even more possible with Hernán Crespo’s side more than holding their own against the Brazilian giants.
Even after Lucas Braga equalised with a little under 15 minutes remaining El Halcón were still going through with Olimpia unable to find a way past Delfín in Paraguay. However, the Ecuadorians took a late lead and as the clock ticked into the 92nd minute in Brazil, Santos struck a winner.
Defeat for Defensa y Justicia saw Delfín jump into second and leaves Hernán Crespo instead watching Friday’s Copa Sudamericana second round draw.