BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – River Plate, who dream of meeting Barcelona in the Club World Cup final next month, will do well to win their semi-final on current form.
The Libertadores Cup holders missed out on two more competitive matches in their preparation for the Dec. 10-20 tournament in Japan when they lost to fellow Argentine side Huracan in the Copa Sudamericana semi-finals on Thursday.
Instead it is Huracan, who held River 2-2 at home after an upset 1-0 away win, who go on to meet Independiente Santa Fe of Colombia in the two-leg final of the region’s equivalent of the Europa League.
With the Argentine first division championship over, River have no more commitments before playing the Dec. 16 semi-final in Osaka against as yet unknown opponents.
Coach Marcelo Gallardo was irritated by reporters’ questions after the match at Huracan, saying: “We gave away a goal after two minutes, how do you think I feel, happy?
“I’m angry, we took a long time to react and that did us harm. In the second half we saw a good reaction from the team.”
Two goals down before the half hour, River hauled themselves back with a brace from striker Rodrigo Mora in the final 21 minutes but went out 3-2 on aggregate.
Uruguayan winger Carlos Sanchez’s red card in the final minute for pushing a ball boy who refused to hand him the ball could see him suspended for River’s opening match in Osaka.
Sanchez has been one of River’s better players during a poor run that has seen them win five and lose nine of their last 18 matches in all competitions after winning the South American crown in August.
The European and South American champions get a bye into the Club World Cup semi-finals and have on all occasions bar two lived up to their seeding.
River will want to avoid shock defeats in the semi-final suffered by Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro in 2013 and Internacional, who in 2010 were beaten by African champions TP Mazembe, the Argentine side’s potential opponents.
(Writing by Rex Gowar)