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River scrape into Club World final with nervy win

River scrape into Club World final with nervy win

OSAKA (Reuters) – South American champions River Plate overcame their anxiety to reach the Club World Cup final with a jittery 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday, keeping alive the dream of a meeting with Barcelona.

River did not really look like scoring until Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi failed to clear Leonardo Ponzio’s free kick and Alario headed home the loose ball in the 72nd minute.

But goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero was the real hero as he kept the Argentine side in the game with a flurry of first-half saves.

River, backed by 15,000 fans who made the marathon trip in the hope of seeing their side meet Barcelona in the final, must now rely on the European champions to avoid a shock defeat against Asian counterparts Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday.

Hiroshima, who qualified for the tournament thanks to a rule which awards a place to the champions of the host nation, had knocked out Auckland City from Oceania and African champions TP Mazembe in a surprise run to the last four.

Although the Club World Cup is given scant regard in Europe, teams from South America regard it as the pinnacle of club football.

They often struggle to beat supposedly lesser opponents in the semi-final when the prize of meeting a top European side is tantalisingly close.


River coach Marcelo Gallardo’s relief was palpable after the game.

“We needed a lot of patience and intelligence and it was decided on the small details,” he told reporters. “It was not easy to carry this huge responsibility but we didn’t allow it to make us lose our heads.”

“There were 10 minutes in the first half when we lost our organisation and they could have caused us a lot of damage.”

River, whose supporters outnumbered the home fans by at least four to one, had plenty of early possession but struggled to create openings and looked very vulnerable to Hiroshima’s quick counter attacks led by Brazilian striker Douglas.

The Argentines completely lost their shape midway through the first half but Baravero, one of several journeymen professionals in their team, came to the rescue.

The 31-year-old, who has never played for Argentina, did well to block Yusuke Minagawa’s shot after the Hiroshima forward got clear of the River defence.

Minagawa, always a threat, failed to connect with a Douglas pass from another counter attack and then saw an effort brilliantly turned away by Barovero after getting free of two defenders.

In between, Barovero also tipped over Yusuke Chajima’s effort after he cut inside a defender to make space for the shot.

River had their first real chance just after halftime but Rodrigo Mora skied his shot over from close range.

The Argentines did not really look like scoring until Alario popped up with the winner late in the second half, sending the huge River contingent in the stadium wild with delight.

(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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