Buenos Aires Times

sports FOOTBALL: COPA LIBERATORES

Superclásico final step nearer after River beats Grêmio in Libertadores

Millo turn around tie in Brazil with last-gasp penalty, securing a famous victory and increasing chances of final showdown against arch-rivals Boca Juniors.

Wednesday 31 October, 2018
River Plate's players celebrate after defeating Brazil's Grêmio during the semi-final second leg match of the Copa Libertadores in Porto Alegre, Brazil last night.
River Plate's players celebrate after defeating Brazil's Grêmio during the semi-final second leg match of the Copa Libertadores in Porto Alegre, Brazil last night. Foto:AP/Andre Penner

A potential Superclásico showdown in the final of the region's greatest football tournament is now a real possibility.

River Plate reached the final of the Copa Libertadores last night after shocking defending champions Grémio with a famous 2-1 win in Brazil, courtesy of a last-gap penalty and a nail-biting 14 minutes of injutry time. 

Last night, River beat the Brazilians 2-1 in Porto Alegre to advance on the away goals rule to its first South American final since 2015. Last week, River lost 1-0 to Grêmio in Buenos Aires.The Argentine side's victory on away goals now sets up a possible championship clash against the Millo's famous arch-rivals Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores – for the first time in history.

Boca, however, must see off another Brazilian side, Palmeiras, in their own second-leg clash. That game takes place tonight, with kick off at 9.45pm local time.

VAR controversy

Midfielder Pity Martínez scored the decisive goal for River in stoppage time after the referee awarded the Argentine side a penalty following a video review that confirmed a handball by defender Matheus Bressan.

Leonardo had scored for Grêmio in the 36th minute and the Brazilian side had more chances. Another came by when Everton squandered an opportunity one-on-one against goalkeeper Franco Armani to make it 2-0 for the hosts at 66 minutes.

But River tied it in the 81st minute with a header by Colombian striker Rafael Borre, after a cross by Martínez, putting more pressure on the defending champions.

After the match Grêmio players said that goal should have been disallowed because of a Borre handball.

"We were the only team on the pitch in the first half. They only had long balls. We had power and strategy. That's why other teams respect us," Martínez said.

Quest

River's adversary in its quest for a fourth Copa Libertadores title will be known on Wednesday, when Boca Juniors defends its 2-0 first-leg victory against Palmeiras, coached by World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.

If Boca manage to qualify, the Libertadores will have its first Superclásico showdown for the right to lift the cup. Never before have two Argentine clubs played off for the title.

Despite the footage on the pitch, River's victory came amid some extra controversy too. Footage at Arena do Grêmio showed coach Marcelo Gallardo entering his team's locker room at half-time for a team-talk, despite having been suspended from the game. 

"Come, come, take a good picture," Gallardo told journalists as he left the locker room. The coach was suspended for one game by South America's footballing body CONMEBOL because of constant delays by his team to return to the pitch after the first 45 minutes of several matches.

Convinced

Coaching assistant Matias Biscay, who replaced Gallardo on the touchline, said the coach convinced River players they could turn the tables during the half-time talk when the score was 1-0 for the Brazilians.

"The players saw they could come back, even before they entered the locker room. Marcelo convinced they this win could not escape," Biscay said in a press conference.

Grêmio coach Renato Portaluppi said his team was "robbed" by the VAR referee, but not because of the penalty awarded to the Argentines. He believes River's Borre intentionally touched the ball with the hand as he scored River's first goal.

"I would rather lose 5-0 than lose it like this. I can't blame the referee on the pitch, but I can blame the VAR referee," Portaluppi said. "Who was taking care of VAR? Was it Stevie Wonder? Everyone else saw it."

Grêmio goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe said the VAR decision wasn't to blame for the loss.

"We didn't take enough care. VAR is fair. If the referee said it is a penalty, it is a penalty," Grohe said.

The first leg of the Copa Libertadores final will be played on November 7, with the second three weeks later on November 28. If Boca qualify tonight it will create a giant logistical and policing headache for the government with the decisive game coming just two days before the G20, with world leaders due to arrive prior to the event.

- TIMES/AP

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