Mon, 25 Jan 2021

By Michael Place

SAO PAULO, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Brazil's Palmeiras clinched a place in the Copa Libertadores final despite a 2-0 home defeat to Argentine side River Plate in a dramatic second leg of their semifinal on Tuesday.

Robert Rojas and Rafael Santos Borre struck first-half goals for the visitors, but Palmeiras withstood a second-half onslaught to advance by virtue of their 3-0 victory in Buenos Aires last week.

Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton was forced to make 11 saves while the hosts could not manage a single shot on target at an Allianz Parque bereft of fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. River also controlled 66 percent of possession and completed 414 passes to Palmeiras' 230.

The Buenos Aires club's dominance continued even after Rojas was shown a red card in the 73rd minute. But Marcelo Gallardo's men were unable to find an elusive third goal as their hopes of a fourth Copa Libertadores final appearance in six years dissipated.

"We never believed the tie was over and we knew it was going to be difficult," Weverton told reporters after the match. "We had to suffer to win it. River were great rivals."

River looked a completely different side to the team that was trounced in the first leg. Paraguayan defender Rojas began their revival with a powerful header just before the half-hour mark following a Nicolas de la Cruz corner.

Colombian striker Santos Borre made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time, capitalizing on chaotic Palmeiras defending to nod in at the far post after Matias Suarez failed to make clean contact with another De La Cruz delivery into the box.

River appeared to equalize in the 55th minute when Gonzalo Montiel thumped an angled shot past goalkeeper Weverton. But the goal was ruled out by Uruguayan referee Esteban Ostojich, who deemed there was an offside in the buildup after consulting the video assistant referee.

The visitors were dealt another blow shortly after when Rojas was shown a second yellow card for dragging down Rony Barbosa.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the visitors continued to threaten the Palmeiras defence. But the hosts survived 13 minutes of tension-filled stoppage time to secure a berth in their fifth Libertadores final as they bid to win South America's top club trophy for a second time.

Abel Ferreira's team will play either Boca Juniors or Santos in the decider at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium on January 30.

Santos held Boca to a goalless draw in Buenos Aires last week and the deciding leg of their semifinal will be played at Santos' Vila Belmiro stadium on Wednesday.

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