On a rainy night in Buenos Aires, River Plate finished the job. Marcelo Gallardo came onto the pitch, where he wasn't allowed on the night while serving a suspension, and joined a delirious group of players. "dale campeón, dale campeón" rang out around the stadium. Fans gathered at the obelisco to celebreate. After a 19 year wait, River Plate were once again Libertadores champions.
RIVER PLATE'S 2015 LIBERTADORES CAMPAIGN
The road to that rainy night at el Monumental was not without its bumps. River's group stage campaign begain with a 2-0 loss at altitude against San José de Oruro. Next at the Monumental, Tigres and River drew 1-1. A pair of 1-1 draws against Peruvian side Juan Aurich had River on just 3 points with 4 matches played.
River travelled to Monterrey to face Mexican side Tigres needing to jump-start their campaign. Instead it was the hosts who pounced. Egidio Arévalo Rios scored with 11 minutes played and Damián Álvarez doubled the lead midway through the second half. With 85 minutes played, Tigres led 2-0 and appeared to be cruising to an easy victory. Téo Gutiérrez grabbed a lifeline, punching home a rebound and then Mora himself pounced, volleying home from Guitiérrez's cross. Just like that River had rescued a point with a 2-2 draw.
Still, with one matchday left, River had yet to win a game, and sat 2 points back of Juan Aurich in the table. With one eye on the happenings in Peru,River thrashed San José de Oruro at home, winning 3-0 behind a brace from Mora. Tigres, who had already sealed their spot in the Round of 16, provided a helping hand, defeating the Peruvians 5-4 in a wild match. River were through.
River advanced past rivals Boca Juniors in the Round of 16, earning a date with Cruzeiro. After a late goal handed the Brazilians a 1-0 win in Buenos Aires, River travelled to Belo Horizonte once again with their backs to the wall. But Gallardo's men put on a show. Carlos Sánchez, Jonathan Maidana and Gutiérrez all scored as River thumped Cruzeiro 3-0 on the night, booking their spot in the Semifinals.
Cindarella story Guaraní awaited them there, but the clock struck midnight for the Paraguayan upstarts as River scored a pair of second half goals at home in the first leg to win 2-0. In the return leg in Asunción, Guaraní momentarily had hope after a second half goal of their own, but a Lucas Alario tally with 78 minutes played gave River the breathing room necessary to move on to the final.
THE 2015 LIBERTADORES FINAL
Awaiting in the Final was a set of familiar faces: Tigres. The side that had lended a helping hand to River in the group stage now faced off with them in the quest for Glória Eterna.
Tigres had loaded up during the pause for the Copa América, signing French international André-Pierre Gignac, who scored against Internacional in the Mexicans' semifinal triumph.
The first leg, played in Monterrey, was tight. It finished 0-0, leaving everything to play for as the scene shifted to Buenos Aires.
The second leg started much like the first. The tension was palpable. Then, right on the stroke of half-time, Lucas Alario put a glancing header on the end of a cross to send the Monumental into delirium.
With Tigres chasing the game in the second half, Carlos Sánchez was brought down in the box by Javier Aquino. Penalty to River. Sánchez himself dispatched the spot kick to double River's lead, and soon thereafter Ramiro Funes Mori rose high above the Tigres defenders to send a powering header into the back of the net for River's third.
"Dale campeón" indeed.