Beach party

Abreu apologises for his first River goal

For the second year running, River Plate’s fans can celebrate on the beaches of Mar del Plata after their side succesfully defended the Torneo de Verano trophy won last January. The extra-heated atmosphere that River – San Lorenzo matches have taken on since Ramón Díaz took over at the Boedo club was present as ever, and Diego Simeone’s boys were much the superior side, eventually getting the win they deserved, 1-0.

Díaz’s outspokenness towards his former employers (and more specifically, now ex-River coach Daniel Passarella) since his return to his homeland a year ago has given River fans more of a reason than ever before to want to beat San Lorenzo, and the trophy – however minor – that was at stake only added to that. Also piling on the pressure for Simeone was the 2-0 defeat in Saturday’s superclásico, which more or less obliged him to come back strongly.

He did so by switching the 3-3-3-1 used against Boca for a more standard 4-2-3-1, and bringing Paulo Ferrari,  Oscar Ahumada and – most notably – Colombian forward Radamel Falcao García back into the starting lineup. With Falcao joined by Mauro Rosales and Ariel Ortega in the line of three, and Sebastián Abreu ahead, it’s becoming clear that whatever the system, Simeone wants his side to attack as much as possible.

San Lorenzo stuck with the lineup they’re expected to begin the Clausura with, Agustín Orión keeping his berth in goal after the week had started with rumours he may be about to join Napoli in Italy’s Serie A. How Ramón Díaz talks so many of his players into staying in the face of offers from European clubs, we may never know…

Ortega was the man of a goalless first half, much of River’s best play going through him – and there was quite a bit of that good play, albeit with a lack of bite in and around the box. At the back, they looked somewhat shakier, and San Lorenzo’s forwards caused them some real problems at times, not least when Adrián González should have been awarded a penalty – the referee failed to spot the illegal tackle on him and minutes later, it was River who had one turned down when González himself was suspected of having handled inside the box.

River’s defence, as it had against Boca when they conceded twice from set pieces, looked vulnerable from high balls into the area, and Bernardo Romeo also went close with a header as half-time approached. At the start of the second half, Simeone withdrew Ortega, to protect him for Saturday’s second superclásico in the Copa Revancha, and replaced him with the young Chilean Alexis Sánchez. He had an immediate impact, dancing into the San Lorenzo box only to be brought down. Sebastián Abreu converted the penalty, before turning to the opposing fans and raising a hand in apology for scoring against one of his old sides.

Following the penalty and the reduction to ten men that it resulted in, San Lorenzo had little other ambition than to defend and limit the damage. Orión showed the form that led to those rumours of Napoli’s interest, called on plenty of times to make good saves and prevent goals that would have extended River’s lead, and when Sebastián Méndez also walked for a hard tackle – again on Sánchez – the match was over as a contest.

With this result, River leapfrog Independiente and finish on top of the final standings for the Torneo de Verano table. The fans can celebrate a trophy, then, but won’t be getting too carried away. This time last year they won the Torneo de Verano with performances that had some journalists comparing them to the great Dutch side of the 1970s (Fernando Belluschi in the Johann Cruyff role – and no, I’m not making this up), and look where that got them when the meaningful action started. The real action starts in a week-and-a-half. For now, the fans can hit the beach and relax a little.

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