The thrillingly close title race lost two possible contenders on Sunday, as River Plate and Independiente appeared to rule themselves out, managing only a draw at the Monumental, a result which serves neither of them especially well for dreams of title-chasing.
It was an entertaining match, with chances galore at both ends, but lack of finishing meant neither could take full advantage and walk off with the three points. There were two goals, one for each side, both from cracking headers by Carlos Matheu for the visitors, and Fernando Belluschi for the home team.
Independiente opened the match as if they thought they were the home side, taking the game to River and forcing them onto the back foot. Daniel Montenegro in particular looked impressive against the side who sold him to Independiente two seasons ago. For River, Diego Buonanotte was given the great compliment of being very closely marked indeed in only his fourth league appearance, leaving Radamel Falcao García isolated up front.
Just as River began to relax a little, get their feet on the ball and start to play themselves – driven by Ariel Ortega – Independiente took the lead, Matheu powering a header past Juan Pablo Carrizo from a right-sided free kick delivered by Montenegro. Thereafter the visitors found more space, started to push and began to really justify the lead they’d already taken. River, pushing for the equaliser, found it hard to come by, but after some moments of bafflement as to how to get the ball into their opponent’s net, River finally got the breakthrough through the same method: a cross from the right (from Pablo Ferrari) and a cracking header from Fernando Belluschi, right on the stroke of half-time.
The second half saw things settle down into a slightly more predictable home-and-away setup: River taking the game to the visitors and Independiente waiting to gain possession back and trying to hit their opponents on the break. Ortega and Germán Denis saw good chances go begging, and with fifteen minutes to go there began a rousing finale as both sides realised a draw wouldn’t do them any good, and went all out for the win. Neither managed it. Denis wasted another chance to bag his 17th goal of the campaign, Carrizo and Fabián Assman in Independiente’s goals made great saves as the match neared its end, but 1-1 was how it somehow finished.
River, then arrive on 23 points, whilst Independiente have 26. Boca, who lead until tonight’s Lanús – Tigre match (after which one or the other of those sides will be at least level on points), have 27, and there are three matches to go. On the face of it, both are still very much in it. But there are so many sides still involved in this title race that both River and Independiente will know they’ve wasted a chance to put themselves in the thick of it this afternoon.