Having lost agonisingly in the final of last year’s Copa Libertadores against Flamengo, where they took an early lead before the Brazilians bagged two goals at the death, River Plate are desperate to win the showpiece this time around.
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Unquestionably South America’s elite club tournament, the Copa Libertadores is their version of Europe’s Champions League, and is understandably taken extremely seriously by all those that qualify.
In the case of River, they’re certainly looking the goods at this stage. Having finished top of their group that contained giants Sao Paulo, LDU Quito and Binacional with 13 points, they faced Athletico Paranaense of Brazil in the Round of 16.
Although Paranaense had been struggling in league action, they’d had a solid group stage and were improving steadily, River Plate headed into the tie as favourites. Dominating the first leg away for large parts with some crisp attacking football, they found themselves a goal down when Guilherme Bissoli gave the home team the lead with a fine goal in the 57th minute. Nine minutes later Paranaense went down to 10 men when Reinaldo received a red card, though. River eventually came back to snatch a draw and a vital away goal, as Paulo Diaz scored with an excellent header in the closing stages of the game.
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The Argentine outfit then registered a 1-0 win in the home leg to seal their passage to the quarter finals with a goal from the outstanding Nicolas De La Cruz.
Boasting so much talent all over the pitch starting with Armani in goal, who’s supported by the likes of Javier Pinola, Diaz and Robert Rojas in central defence, they’re not an easy team to score against. The fullback spots are then typically occupied by Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel and Milton Casco.
Then, in midfield, Enzo Perez’s leadership and nous is vital and gives the likes of Ignacio Fernandez, De la Cruz, Santiago Sosa and Julian Alvarez the platform to drive forward. Usual strikeforce of Rafael Santos Borre and Matias Suarez are a proven threat, who complement each other brilliantly. The likes of Lucas Pratto and Jorge Carrascal have shown what useful backups they are off the bench.
Possessing a quality blend of youth and experience and coached by one of the finest coaches on the continent in Marcelo Gallardo, who’s won the Libertadores twice as coach, they’ll certainly be hard to beat. Priced at $3.20 at the moment, they offer reasonable value for punters to take home the title too.
With so many other superb teams still in the competition such as fierce rivals Boca Juniors, Palmeiras, Gremio, Racing Club and Santos it won’t be easy. But knowing what it takes to go all the way, the favourite tag is rightfully theirs.