River Plate became the fourth Argentine club in the last 16 of the 2008 Copa Libertadores on Thursday night thanks to an easy home win over Peru’s San Martín de Porres in the Monumental. Any result would have done for River as long as they didn’t lose by more than one goal, but once Sebastián Abreu had put them into the lead quarter of an hour in, they never looked like losing control of the game.
Diego Simeone sent the side out to attack, as usual, and they did it with some fluency, especially down the right flank where Paulo Ferrari was as rampaging as ever from right-back. They’d already come close before the opener, centre-back Gustavo Cabral fluffing his lines from almost under the crossbar with his back to goal after a poorly-defended free kick found its way to him, but River only had to wait another couple of minutes for Abreu to pounce on a diagonal centre from the left and turn it inside the far post in the 14th minute.
San Martín barely threatened an equaliser, River noticeably growing in comfort and confidence before Radamel Falcao García doubled the lead in the 27th minute with a fine goal. Matías Abelairas took the ball in the centre circle and played a lofted diagonal ball into the right channel for flying full back Ferrari to race onto. The right back knocked the ball past one defender, beat a second for pace, got to the byline and pulled back a perfect ball for Falcao to backheel past the goalkeeper at the near post. For the remainder of the half, River controlled and San Martín could do little to change the situation.
In the second half, the pace was stepped up a little early on by the visitors, but River killed off any hopes of a fightback immediately when Abreu notched his second, heading in a right-sided free kick from Abelairas to make it 3-0. From the restart, River regained the ball, got back into the visitors’ box, and hit the post after a brilliant point-blank save from Leao Butrón to keep Rodrigo Archubi out. San Martín had a couple of middle-distance efforts, easily saved by Juan Pablo Carrizo, but it was no surprise when River’s fifth arrived courtesy of substitute striker Andrés Ríos, who’d replaced Falcao 20 minutes previously after the Colombian appeared to have strained a muscle.
Diego Buonanotte also came on to terrorise yet another defence down River’s left, and after numerous free kicks and bookings for his markers, it was he who created the final goal of the night with a scintillating stoppage time run down the wing and into the box, before he cut it back for Ríos to beat a man and slide it right towards Abreu. The Uruguayan, who’d struggled for form when he first arrived at the Monumental, controlled with his right and then rammed a majestic left-footer into the top corner to seal his hat-trick, and his sixth goal of the group stage. The referee didn’t even bother to restart the match, so comprehensively were San Martín crushed. For perhaps the first time, Diego Simeone’s side have actually clicked. Their attack didn’t always look completely joined up and three of the goals were from set-pieces, but if they’re going to start scoring like this more regularly opponents at home and abroad had better watch out.
River qualify in first place from Group 5, with América in second by the skin of their teeth after they lost 2-0 in Santiago – another goal and Universidad Católica would have taken their place; the Chileans lost out in the final table only on goals scored to the Mexicans. River have 12 points (4 wins, 2 losses); América and Universidad Católica 9 each (3 wins, 3 losses for both) and San Martín 6 (2 wins, 4 losses).
For the goals, check back tomorrow.