An earlier storm and damage to the floodlights almost put paid to River Plate’s trip to Rosario Central but in the end a much changed line-up picked up the three points required to seal progression in the Copa Diego Maradona.
In need of a win to keep their hopes alive Central started brightly and forced a couple of good stops out of Enrique Bologna in the River goal. Yet after nine minutes it was River that led, the impressive Robert Rojas rising to head in at a corner for the second consecutive week.
The home side remained a threat against a River side clearly focused on next week’s Copa Libertadores last 16 second leg against Athletico Paranaense but handed their visitors a second, Damián Martínez somehow managing to loop a header into his own net.
Banfield’s goalless draw away to Godoy Cruz at the same time wraps up Group 3 with the Taladro and River ensured of their places in the Fase Campeonato. Victory for River over Godoy Cruz next weekend in Avellaneda will confirm top spot.
Group 2 is also done and dusted after Independiente defeated Colón in Santa Fe to ensure that the two sides progress before Defensa y Justicia and Central Córdoba meet on Sunday.
Much like for River, it was probably expected that the Copa Diego Maradona would take a backseat for Independiente while still competing in the Copa Sudamericana but their 4-1 first leg win over Fénix in Montevideo on Wednesday allowed Lucas Pusineri to select a strong side.
Not that the performance that followed was particularly impressive for the most part. Unbeaten Colón forced Milton Álvarez into a number of good stops with Luis Miguel Rodríguez even hitting the crossbar with a superb free-kick.
Yet El Rojo have shown some real resilience in recent weeks and in the 74th minute just after coming off the bench, Jonathan Menéndez raced away to fire Independiente in front.
The likelihood of a Colón equaliser still looked high but two minutes from time, Alan Velasco left Bruno Bianchi for dead with a delightful turn on halfway and the 18-year-old dashed clear to seal victory.
On an emotional day for Gimnasia, Diego Maradona’s most recent club secured the victory that keeps their cup hopes alive in a finely balanced Group 6.
A towering header from defender Maxi Coronel midway through the first half was enough for Gimnasia and sparked terrific scenes in the visiting dressing room with the players celebrating wildly to Rodrigo’s classic ‘La Mano de Dios.’
Group 6 will go down to the final game next weekend with Huracán looking to leapfrog both teams with a win over Patronato on Sunday. A flat Vélez deserved little from the visit of Gimnasia will need a result in Paraná next Saturday while Gimnasia know that a win over Huracán would be enough for them.