Internacional and River Plate starred in a true spectacle this past Tuesday (08/08/2023) for the Round of 16 of the Copa Libertadores. Join us as we delve into the story of this clash.
The First Leg Match between Internacional and River Plate
Two of the greatest clubs in South America faced off in the Round of 16 of the Libertadores.
The first game took place in the largest stadium on the continent and one of the biggest in the world.
The Monumental de Nuñez, River Plate’s legendary stadium, underwent a major renovation.
Even before the renovations, the stadium was already gigantic, with a capacity of around 72 thousand people. However, after the revamp, the stadium became the largest in South America. The athletic tracks surrounding the field were removed, making way for new sections.
The official estimated capacity is 84 thousand fans, but there are reports that the match between Internacional and River Plate hosted more than 86 thousand supporters.
Image: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images
The party unfolded as expected. Typical of the Argentine audience, the crowd sang in unison, at full volume. River Plate drew upon all this energy and started the game pressing Internacional. Beltrán and De La Cruz had opportunities to open the scoring, but with a lack of accuracy and thanks to Rochet’s good saves, Colorado managed to weather the initial Argentine team’s fervor.
A free-kick on the left side is fertile ground for Alan Patrick, who, with a beautiful cross, found the head of the star signing of the season, Enner Valencia, who diverted the ball into the net, opening the scoring for Inter.
River Plate returned for the second half with significant intensity, forcing goalkeeper Rochet to make great saves once again.
However, River’s pressure was so strong that Internacional couldn’t maintain the advantage on the scoreboard. A deep ball that Renê failed to clear allowed Solari to enter the area and strike a powerful shot to equalize the game at 65′.
Pablo Solari, once again, received a great pass behind the defense and found himself one-on-one with Rochet. The striker outmaneuvered the goalkeeper and scored his second goal of the match, turning the game around and sending the Monumental crowd into a frenzy.
It’s worth noting that the match ended 2-1 solely due to Rochet’s historic performance in goal, considering that River Plate had 21 attempts, with 9 on target. His performance was crucial for the Brazilian team to return to Porto Alegre with a reversible result, and so it was.
Image: Divulgação/River Plate
The Second Leg Match
Since the River Plate fans had staged an unprecedented spectacle at the Monumental, the Colorada fans didn’t want to be left behind.
Therefore, before the start of the game, the players were greeted by the “streets of fire,” a situation in which Internacional fans escorted the players’ bus to the entrance of the Beira-Rio stadium with flares, fireworks, and flags.
Image: Jefferson Botega/RBS
Furthermore, Beira-Rio set a new attendance record last night, with over 50 thousand spectators, surpassing the 2019 Copa do Brasil final against Athletico Paranaense.
Under the command of Cacho Coudet, former River idol and now coach of Internacional, the team began the game with a lot of momentum, relying on plays from the wings.
The most dangerous player was Enner Valencia, who constantly created goal-scoring opportunities with his strength and physical explosiveness.
River also had its chances, mainly from set pieces, including a dangerous ball crossed by Nacho Fernández, but the first half ended goalless.
In the second half, it was Inter’s turn to capitalize on set pieces. A corner kick bounced in the middle of the box, and defender Mercado, in an instant reaction, headed it. The ball hit the crossbar and landed inside the goal.
The Colorada fans went wild, pushing the team forward. Inter almost extended the lead with another brilliant play by Enner Valencia, further inflaming the stands.
The turnaround came from the team’s brain, Alan Patrick, who took a free-kick from the corner of the box and benefited from luck as the ball deflected off the River Plate wall and found the back of the net.
The euphoria of the turnaround was immense. It was the result that Inter needed to qualify.
However, we should never doubt River Plate, especially in the context of the Libertadores. In the 90th minute, a corner kick for the Millonarios.
The ball was crossed. It passed through the entire Internacional defense, but it didn’t get past the defender, Robert Rojas, who was speeding into the area.
The defender, like Mercado, had incredible quick thinking and managed to shoot the ball while almost falling, scoring for River Plate.
This was what River needed to take the game to penalties. And so it was.
On one side, Rochet, who had saved everything possible in the shootout until then. On the other, Armani, an experienced goalkeeper and a Copa Libertadores champion. Therefore, it was expected that both could shine in this shootout. One of them did shine, but not in the conventional way.
The accuracy of the penalty takers was on point. The first six kicks, from both sides, were converted. Until it was time for Solari, the hero of the turnaround in the first leg, to take his shot.
The striker ran to the ball, shot, slipped, and scored. But not so fast. The VAR was consulted, and it was revealed that Solari had double-touched the ball, as he accidentally hit the ball with his shooting foot and his supporting foot. Thus, the kick was deemed invalid.
All Internacional needed was for Carlos de Pena, one of the most experienced players on the team, to convert his penalty.
Once again, football’s twists and turns. De Pena ran to the ball and hit the post.
River Plate remained alive in the shootout.
An important note. The referee noticed that the penalty spot was covered in mud due to the numerous kicks (which had even caused Solari’s slip). As a result, the referee requested a goal change.
The eighth Argentine to take a penalty was Robert Rojas. Yes, the same player who achieved the unimaginable and brought River back into the penalty shootout. He stepped up for the kick and unleashed a powerful shot, but it hit the crossbar.
Once again, Inter had the qualification in their hands. Who would take the next penalty?
Rochet shouldered this immense responsibility and showed nerves of steel. The goalkeeper sprinted to the ball, struck it with force, and bulged the net.
Inter qualified. What a game!
Image: Bruno Ravazzolli
Image: NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP
Written by Vitor F L Miller.