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SPORTS | 19-04-2024 11:23

Copa drama sets up first Superclásico with both sets of fans since 2018

The final round of Copa de la Liga fixtures brought a festival of gripping football which kept fans glued to their chairs.

The final round of Copa de la Liga Profesional fixtures promised to be spectacular and it did not disappoint. After a long weekend where the only options were to stare forlornly at the wall or tune in to Tigre's latest defeat (this time at the hands of Unión), Monday and Tuesday brought a festival of gripping football which kept fans glued to their chairs until the bitter end.

The close of Group A in particular was packed full of more twists and turns than your average Buenos Aires bus route. Early on it appeared that River Plate were set for disaster, as they fell behind Instituto in Córdoba and Vélez Sarsfield and Independiente grabbed the lead, leapfrogging the Millonario into the two final play-off spots at half-time.

But as we have seen on multiple occasions this year, there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded River left with a head of steam at the break. Head coach Martín Demichelis made the necessary changes and was left delighted and relieved in equal measures as Facundo Colidio's hat-trick sealed the necessary 3-1 win. Demichelis' men have now won their last four matches in all competitions to pull out of a mid-Copa funk, and as we will see a little later that momentum may serve them well in their next clash, the biggest game of the year to date.

While River were celebrating, over in Avellaneda, Independiente were left shaking their heads as they looked back on an astonishing collapse. Two goals in the first half against fellow play-off hopefuls Talleres and the expulsion of Miguel Navarro to leave the visitors with 10 men seemed to put the Rojo in an unassailable position after the first half. Talleres, though, had other ideas, and hit twice in the opening seven minutes after the restart to square things up. 

What followed was a madcap end to the game, including a disallowed Talleres goal and a host of inspired saves at both ends to keep proceedings at 2-2: a result, it turned out, that eliminated both sides to the benefit of Vélez, who squeaked home by virtue of a rather less heart-wrenching victory away to Independiente Rivadavia.

In comparison the conclusion of Group B was almost pedestrian, but the identity of the three teams that would join Godoy Cruz in the play-offs was up in the air throughout. Racing Club jumped out of the blocks fastest by going ahead almost instantly against Belgrano, and spent more than an hour safely inside the top four before, one by one, fortunes turned against the Avellaneda side.

First Boca Juniors, through a sublime Edinson Cavani finish, then Defensa y Justicia went ahead to push Racing back down to fifth. The Xeneize rode their luck deep into injury time when Juan Bautista Cejas crushed the potential equaliser against the bar but just held on to ensure that in spite of a 4-0 rout, it would be them and not La Academia going through to the next round. Their opponents in the quarter-finals? Only River, in what will be the first Superclásico with both sets of fans present since the Madrid Libertadores final in 2018 and first on Argentine soil since 2017. 

Córdoba's Estadio Mario Kempes will be rocking this Sunday with thousands of Boca and River fans, the latest twist in a tournament that has already proved to be required viewing throughout this campaign.

 

Superclásico: Boca Juniors v River Plate, Sunday, 3.30pm

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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