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Copa Libertadores Heats Up After Action-Packed Last 16

Copa Libertadores Heats Up After Action-Packed Last 16

River Plate demolished Racing to join some surprise names in the Copa Libertadores quarter finals, writes Tom Nash.

South America’s premier football competition, the Copa Libertadores, reached its most interesting phase this week, as the return legs of the round of 16 took place up and down the continent.

The build-up had been marred by yet more incompetence from the organisers, CONMEBOL. Independiente were successful in claiming a 3-0 forfeit in the first leg of their clash with Santos, and Racing were unsuccessful in their bid to claim the same result against River Plate.

Both cases were the result of confusion between clubs and the governing body leading to suspended players taking to the field.

The accusations and counter-accusations fired backwards and forwards all month, but once the action started, the headline tie in Buenos Aires was the return leg of the River Plate-Racing derby.

River Plate took full advantage of the solid 0-0 draw they secured in the away leg with 10 men, and blew away La Academia 3-0 with a fine attacking display in front of over 60,000 delirious home fans.

Racing went in to the second leg well fancied, as they had made a more promising start to the league campaign than El Millonario who had not scored in 360 minutes and had a number of concerns around injuries and suspensions coming into the game.

All the negativity evaporated after ten minutes, however, as record signing Lucas Pratto slammed home an opening goal after a well-worked attack.

Young starlet Ezequiel Palacios doubled the lead after 26 minutes with a counter-attack that stemmed from a poorly executed free-kick routine by the visitors. The game was sealed 10 minutes from the end as Rafael Santos Borré stabbed in from close range.

River will go from one local derby to another, as they now meet Independiente, who won the most controversial of the 8 second round matchups to advance to the quarter finals.

The first leg was awarded 3-0 to Independiente after Santos included the supposedly suspended Carlos Sanchez. As the entertaining second leg drew towards a 0-0 draw in Brazil, the home fans erupted into violence in protest at CONMEBOL’s handling of the affair.

The game had to be suspended, and the Argentine seven-time champions were awarded victory in yet another bad-tempered and shambolic episode for South American football.

These were far from the only dramatic or memorable games in this week’s action. Two feats were particularly notable.

Firstly, Colo Colo caused the upset of the round by knocking out Brazilian champions Corinthians in São Paulo. They held on for a 2-1 defeat, which sent them through on away goals after a 1-0 win in Santiago.

They will now make their first appearance in the quarter finals in a generation, and return to São Paulo to face Palmeiras who eliminated Paraguayans Cerro Porteño without looking anywhere near their best, as they had done in the groups.

The second surprise name appearing in the next round is Atletico Tucumán. A 1-0 away defeat to Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the Colombian Andes was enough for them to go through 2-1 on aggregate. The club from the rural Northwest of Argentina will now make their first ever quarter final appearance.

Tucuman’s opponents in the quarters will be defending champions Gremio, but only just.

The Porto Alegre side needed a heroic 93rd minute header to force a 3-3 aggregate draw vs Estudiantes La Plata, and won the subsequent shootout 5-3. This was a bitter result to swallow for the Argentines, as they had pushed the 2017 winners much closer than anticipated, and are left to reflect on what might have been.

The one remaining quarter final is a real heavyweight clash between another pair of famous old names; Cruzeiro and Boca Juniors.

Cruzeiro held on unconvincingly to win their all-Brazilian tie against Flamengo 2-1 in Belo Horizonte. Meanwhile Boca put on a slick attacking display in Paraguay against Libertad to compensate for their defensive flaws, winning the away leg 4-2 after an early scare. Many believe that the winners of that clash are real candidates to go on and lift the trophy.

With the quarter finals only two weeks away, the fun has only just begun for South American football fans. They just need to hope that CONMEBOL don’t spoil the party.

The quarter final first legs are scheduled for 18-20 September, and the second legs 2-4 October.