River began the game very offensive-mindedly. The team constantly attacked and almost found the first goal at the 4th minute, just to be incredibly missed by Ariel Ortega. After that "los millonarios" kept on attacking, and seemed like they had the situation under control until Federico Lussenhoff gave away the ball and left a Botafogo player one on one with Juan Pablo Carrizo. Fortunately, our goalkeeper avoided the goal and left the match at a 0-0 score. As if that warning wasn't enough, though, Lussenhoff lost the ball again a few minutes later. This time, the ball ended up in the net and resulted in a score that favored the Brazilians just 11 minutes into the game. This meant that "la banda" had to find atleast three goals to qualify, making the task look very complicated.
After Botafogo's opening goal, River could not find the tie. Fortunately, Radamel Falcao Garcia made a fantastic header and put the match back on level terms at the 30th minute of the first half. The team was then able to get back on track, but missed several clear chances.
In the second half, River still had to take care of the complicated mission of scoring two more goals (remember, a 2-1 win would have eliminated us due to the away goal rule). To make things worse, Federico Lussenhoff was expelled out of stupidity in the beginning of the second part of the match. This left River with just 2 defenders (N. Sanchez & Ferrari; Villagra had previously been substitued) and opened up all sorts of spaces for Botafogo. The Brazilian side took advantage of this and found the partial 2-1 win and could have even found an extension to the lead.
Things could not have gotten worse, right? WRONG! In fact, at the 72nd minute of the game Oscar Ahumdada was directly expelled, leaving River with only two defenders and no defensive midfielder. But this is just when the miracle began: in the next 5 mintues, River flipped the score with yet another goal by Radamel Falcao Garcia and one by Andres Rios. Some fans, who had left the stadium early due to no faith in the team (lame fans.. not wanted in the Monumental), ran back quickly after hearing the news. The whole stadium was now filled with more faith than ever, and the fans did not stop cheering on the players. Then, the expected moment finally arrived: at the 91st minute, Ariel Ortega centered the ball, only to have the Colombian Falcao put it through the net again. The fans were now delirious, promising to not bring the party to an end for a long time.
In conclusion, River created a miracle that wasn't expected by even the most optimistic fan. Displaying some poor football, no one expected a team with only 9 players to score the necesary 3 goals in less than 20 minutes. Fortunately, the squad was full of heart and passion, and got through this tough situation by giving their best.
The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo: One of the players who showed the most love for the jersey. Besides avoiding a possible 0-1 score in the first minutes, he played with his heart and even attempted to find a goal at the end of the match when the score was still 3-2. Aguante Carrizo!
Cristian Villagra: "Kity" played a pretty good match. I never really liked this guy, but today he contributed a lot to the attack and gave a splendid assist-worthy pass to Ortega early on in the game. He was substituted in the second half by Matias Abelairas.
Nicolas Sanchez: The ex-Nueva Chicago player had the difficult task of keeping a strong 2-man defense in the second half. He didn't have a very good night, but it is complicated to shine when being so lonely in the back.
Federico Lussenhoff: Absolutely horrible. You can even go as far as saying that the final result was River: 4 - Lussenhoff: 2. Both goals were either directly or indirectly his fault. Not only did he help our rivals score, but he also didn't defend well at all and was awfully slow. The good news? His expulsion guarantees that he won't play in the next Sudamericana match.
Paulo Ferrari: Similar story as Sanchez's. He was one of the two defenders, and had a difficult mission.
Fernando Belluschi: Belluuuuuuschi, Belluuuuuuschi!! Another great game for the ex-Newell's Old Boy's midfielder. The #8 was pure heart, running everywhere from the first minute and fighting for every ball as if it were the last one he'd ever touch. No goals this time for Fernando, but a great game nonetheless.
Oscar Ahumada: The defensive midfielder played a good match, especially in the second half when he had to go back very often to fill the empty spaces. He stopped Botafogo's possible 3-1 lead on the goal line, and did very well until he was expelled.
Augusto Fernandez: Contradictory to his usual form, Fernandez played a poor match and barely appeared. He had one clear opportunity to score, but failed to do so.
Ariel Ortega: "El Burrito" had a good night and was important for the team. Yes, he did miss two very easy one-on-one opportunities with the goalkeeper, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that he gave some very good passes and the last minute assist to Falcao. If anyone on this team plays for the jersey, it's Ortega.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: What a game for the Colombian! Of our four goals, three of them were scored by Falcao, each of them being stupendous. This was the Falcao we first saw debut for River in 2005. Let's hope that he's able to maintain his form and continue on this positive scoring spree.
Andres Rios: The youngster got another chance to start and scored once again. His goal was vital, for it was the shot that put us up for the first time in the game. Other than the goal, he participated a lot in the team's plays and had an overall good performance.
The Substitutes -
Matias Abelairas: The leftie came in for the last 40 or so minutes, replacing Villagra. He helped out in the attack, as well as in our defense after Lussenhoff's expulsion. Nothing fantastic, but not bad either.
Nicolas Domingo: This guy is amazing. I've been saying it for a while now, and I'll continue saying it: Nico is the closest thing we have to Javier Mascherano. This guy is full of skill and ability, and proved it in last year's 3-1 win over Boca Juniors in the Superclasico. After a long injury, he returned to the first team today. Although he didn't start and only played the last 15 minutes, he left his mark. He recuperated a lot and eliminated Botafogo's offensive threat. He also kept the ball up in Max's (Botafogo's goalkeeper) area. Hopefully we get to see him start in the Quarterfinal game over Ponzio (Ahumada will be suspended).
Marco Ruben: The ex-Rosario Central foward did not have enough time to leave his mark. He entered when the game was still 3-2, in search of that required fourth goal. He was not able to find it (luckily Falcao was), and in fact did not even touch the ball very often.
Last but not least, we cannot forget about the fans. The whole stadium was filled with fanatics who sang their hearts out from the beginning till the end. The Fox Sports en Espanol commentators noted that their constant support marked it's influence in the result, something I agree with.
We were all left with a pleasant surprise today. A night which painted to be a dark one was transformed into a glorious day thanks to the players' heart and will to win the game. For now, Daniel Passarella will be able to sleep at night.
In the Quarter-Finals we will face either Defensor Sporting (URU) or El Nacional (ECU). Due to the abundant 3-0 win in the first leg, everything seems to indicate that we will be traveling to Uruguay for the next game. But if we learned anything today, it's to not relax so easily, for anything can happen. Thanks River for this joy!