For all the talk in recent years of River Plate benefitting from favourable decisions, Tuesday’s Copa Libertadores semi final saw Marcelo Gallardo’s side denied one of the great comebacks by the finest of VAR margins as Palmeiras held on to book a spot in the biggest game in South American football.
Looking to do what no other side has done and overturn a 3-0 home defeat in the first leg, River came within one goal of forcing penalties in São Paulo only for the drama of VAR to chalk off a goal and deny two penalties.
Undone by individual errors and Palmeiras’ rapid counter-attacks one week ago, River Plate looked a very different side in Brazil and clearly held the belief that the three-goal deficit was not the insurmountable task many thought it to be.
Clearly content with playing on the counter once more, Palmeiras gifted possession to River and when Robert Rojas made amends for his defensive blunder last week to head a goal back before the half hour mark the Millonarios confidence only grew.
The rock at the centre of the Palmeiras defence, Gustavo Gómez went off injured before half time and without his organisation River found a second, Nicolás De La Cruz’s cross finding its way all the way through to Rafael Santos Borré to nod in.
Leading two-nil at the break, River smelled blood and it was now Palmeiras’ turn to appear shell-shocked.
The break did little to stem River’s momentum and when Gonzalo Montiel arrived at the back post to volley past Weverton, it appeared as though Marcelo Gallardo’s side had done it. VAR had other ideas. After lengthy delay and confusion all round, a narrow offside against Santos Borré in the build-up was spotted and River’s equaliser was chalked out.
Still chasing that elusive third goal, River’s hopes were dealt a blow when Rojas was shown a second yellow card yet even with ten men the visitors had Palmeiras pegged back.
Moments later, Matiás Suárez tumbled in the box under the challenge of Alan Empereur and referee Esteban Ostojich pointed to the spot. Would River find their leveller now? Once again Ostojich checked the monitor and after closer inspection decided that Suárez was already going to ground before any hint of contact.
Chances for the counter appeared and Palmeiras could have killed off River’s resistance but even the forward players had lost their touch and still the visitors came forward. A goalmouth scramble saw Santos Borré hit the woodwork, Emerson Santos head off the line and deep in the nine additional minutes River came close again. Santos Borré this time knocked to the ground only for another offside in the buildup to deny the penalty claim and with it any last hope.
No one could fault River’s effort, manager Abel Ferreira’s passionate speech in the face of Marcelo Gallardo evidence of that yet Palmeiras will be in the final to face either Santos or Boca Juniors.
Earlier in the Copa Sudamericana, Defensa y Justicia played out a goalless draw with Coquimbo Unido in their delayed semi-final first leg.
Controversially meeting in Asunción rather than Chile after last week’s game was suspended due to three positive Covid-19 results within the Defensa y Justicia squad, Coquimbo Unido were unable to take advantage of their ‘home’ leg. Braian Romero was unable to continue his hot streak in CONMEBOL competition wasting a couple of good first half chances with the Chileans also missing opportunities late on.
Without an away goal the tie remains in the balance and Coquimbo Unido know that a goal in Florencio Varela will make life uncomfortable for Hernán Crespo’s side. Though back in Argentina, Defensa y Justicia will be confident of finishing the job and reaching a historic final.