Defending Champions River Plate tangle with Cerro Porteño in Libertadores Quarterfinals

Defending champions River Plate are in search of back-to-back Libertadores titles, a feat not accomplished since Boca Juniors won in 2000 and 2001. Their quarterfinal opponents are Cerro Porteño, the only side left standing in this Libertadores who have yet to win it, a fact they’re hoping to change this time around.

River Plate survived a tense Round of 16 tie with Cruzeiro, playing out a pair of 0-0 draws before eliminating the Brazilians on penalties. Cerro Porteño scored twice in the second half of the second leg to rally past San Lorenzo, securing their spot in the quarterfinals. 

With a few more matches in their system following the Copa América break, including an impressive 6-1 thumping of Racing at the weekend, River Plate will be confident in playing at a higher level than was on display against Cruzeiro. Chilean defender Paulo Díaz has officially joined the club, while the midfield looks as strong as ever with Exequiel Palacios, Leonardo Ponzio and Enzo Pérez all expected to play a role. In attack, Lucas Pratto should see at least a few chances over the two legs, while Rafael Santos Borre is always dangerous himself. 

In goal, River Plate can count on Argentine international Franco Armani, a two-time Libertadores winner known for his ability to come up big in the moments that matter most. He made a critical save against Cruzeiro in the Round of 16 while also adding another big save in the shootout. 

Cerro Porteño won each of their first four matches in the group stage, including an impressive 4-1 thumping of Atlético Mineiro. Those results helped them book a spot in the Round of 16 early on. Cerro Porteño can count on an eclectic group of players headlined by talented young fullback Santiago Arzamendia. Around the young Arzamendia, Cerro Porteño can count on a host of experienced heads, including Óscar Ruíz, whose goal in the Round of 16 capped off the Cerro Porteño comeback. 

When all is said and done, River Plate boss Marcello Gallardo may go down as one of the most successful managers in Libertadores history. During the course of his tenure, his sides have won a number of different ways. Most recently in two-legged Libertadores ties, Gallardo’s bunch have played a compact, organized brand of football to open up the tie. In fact, with the exception of the 2-2 draw in the first leg of last year’s final, River Plate’s first leg matches in the past two years have featured just one goal, scored by Grêmio in last year’s semifinals. 

Expect more of the same against Cerro Porteño. River Plate will play to their strengths and ensure that they head to Asunción firmly in the tie. Cerro Porteño should be more than happy to play along, having played out a 0-0 draw against San Lorenzo in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie. 

The combined willingness to play compact, organized football could mean that, as is so often the case late on in competitions, individual moments could prove to be the difference in the tie. It could be that both sides find themselves fairly evenly matched, one mistake, or one impressive show of quality, could prove the difference when all is said and done, with one side in the semifinals, and the other on the outside looking in.