Friday, February 29, 2008

River Plate: 2 - America: 1 - Copa Libertadores 2008

On Wednesday night, River Plate managed to accumulate their first three points of the Copa Libertadores 2008 upon defeating America of Mexico. With this win, the team's chances of advancing to the next round have once again increased.

The match began poorly for "los Millonarios". Just after 15 minutes after the initial whistle blew, Salvador Cabañas scored and gave the Mexican side the partial victory. River were trying, but weren't showing much besides a few shots here and there (two hit the post). Fortunately, Falcao was able to put the ball through the net, and therefore equalize the match.

The first 45 minutes ended, and 1-1 was a fair result. Both teams had their chances to be up, but neither was able to stick out more than the other, and thus were not able to find many advantages.

The second half was pretty much one-sided. Diego Simeone opted to play an offensive scheme, bringing in Alexis Sanchez for Paulo Ferrari and Diego Buonanotte for Matias Abelairas. This left the team with only three defenders, one defensive midfielder, and 6 very offensive players (Ortega, Falcao, A. Sanchez, Abreu, Buonanotte, and A. Fernandez). Luckily enough, America did not take advantage of the situation and went out with a more conservative style of play. This allowed River to easily recuperate the ball and continue attacking. As time passed, Armando Navarrete (goalkeeper for the "Aguilas") slowly began transforming himself into the player of the game with his endless saves. To make things worse, Falcao was expelled in the 89th minute due to getting in a small fight with a rival player. Everything indicated that the match would end as a draw, especially without the prescence of our key foward, but Ariel Ortega found the ball inside the box in injury time and efficiently put it past Navarette.

The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo: A few good saves in the first half and not much to do in the second. Overall, another good game for the keeper.
Paulo Ferrari: Didn't show much while on the pitch. Correctly substituted in the second half.
Gustavo Cabral: The ex-Racing player didn't play as well as he had on Sunday vs. San Lorenzo, but he had a decent game nonetheless. Either way, there's always room for improvement.
Eduardo Tuzzio: His error led to America's goal. After that he improved a bit. I may not seem to mad at him since we won, but if we had lost the game he would have been my main target.
Cristian Villagra: Just like Cabral, Villagra failed to repeat Sunday's performance. At times he would go up to attack and leave the left part of the defense way too open. Was Sunday's game just a one-time thing?
Augusto Fernandez: The right-winger has yet to duplicate last season's form. He did well at times (centered the ball in our first goal), though he still hasn't been all that convincing in the last few games.
Oscar Ahumada: Great game for the defensive midfielder. Ahumada was left with the tough task of controlling the defensive duties of a very offensive team in the second half. He did it by himself and in a convincing manner. Positive performance.
Matias Abelairas: "Pitu" was never able to get himself going, and his substitution eventually brought a better River to the pitch. Based on his season so far, though, he still deserves a spot on the starting squad.
Ariel Ortega: Despite starting the game a bit slow, Ortega improved as time progressed. It wasn't his best game, yet he managed to do a few good things. Most importantly, he scored the winning goal in the 92nd minute of the match.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: An essential player to the team. His contributions and efforts are priceless, and his goal once again helped the team raise it's confidence. Towards the end of the match he was expelled in an unnecessary fight and will be missing the next two games vs. Universidad Catolica.
Sebastian Abreu: Besides assisting Falcao in a great manner in the first goal, the Uruguayan did not do much and has yet to improve. Will he ever debut his goalscoring skills with River's jersey?
The Substitutes -
Alexis Sanchez: The Chilean entered during half time to replace Paulo Ferrari and completely changed the face of the game by adding flare to the attack. I am also impressed by his effort in returning to recuperate the ball, something most players of his caliber do not usually do.
Diego Buonanotte: Another key player in the win. Other than assisting Ortega in the second goal, he constantly attacked and posed a serious threat to America. This is not the first time he enters the field and plays very well, so if he doesn't begin starting anytime soon he will definitely be a super-sub for the squad.

The goals:

With this win, River have managed to reach the first place spot in the group, which we are currently sharing with the other three teams (all four have 3 points). Our next Libertadores game will be in Chile against Universidad Catolica, but we must first worry about our Clausura matches vs. San Martin (SJ) and Estudiantes. Vamos River!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

River - America: The Preview

Our second match corresponding to the Copa Libertadores 2008 will take place tomorrow in the Monumental Stadium. Our rivals will be America of Mexico, the toughest team in the group on paper and in terms of history.

Diego Simeone has decided to field the efficient formation that led the team to a win over San Lorenzo on Sunday. Therefore, the following will be on the field from Minute 0:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Gustavo Cabral-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Matias Abelairas;
Ariel Ortega;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Sebastian Abreu

High quality players such as Alexis Sanchez, Leonardo Ponzio, Mauro Rosales, and Diego Buonanotte, meanwhile, will be waiting on the bench with expectations of entering the field and helping the team with their tremendous amount of skill.

The key player to look out for on the Mexican side will definitely be Salvador Cabañas. The Paraguayan International striker was chosen the Best South American Footballer in 2007 due to his impressive scoring (37 goals last year). His qualities led him to become to the Top Goalscorer of the Chilean League, the Mexican League, and the last edition of the Copa Libertadores. Ex-River foward Federico Higuain (Gonzalo's brother) will be on the bench, but he can prove to be vital: the two times he faced River he scored against the club (both times playing for Nueva Chicago). In fact, he even managed to score America's winning goal vs. Universidad Catolica in the 90th minute, leading the "Aguilas" to the first place spot in the group for now.

This will be a very important game for River. A win can help the team catch up to the top spots of the group. Since Universidad Catolica defeated Universidad San Martin today (1-0 in favor of the Chileans), all four teams would be sharing the same position with three points. A loss, meanwhile, could result in a tough position: the "Millonarios" would end up 6 points away from America with some tough games awaiting the squad.

The game will be shown live tomorrow on Fox Sports en Espanol at 2:30 PM Pacific / 5:30 PM Eastern Time. A tape delay will also be shown on the same channel at 8:00 PM Pacific / 11:00 PM Eastern Time.

Monday, February 25, 2008

River Plate: 2 - San Lorenzo: 0 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate managed to pull off a convincing win over San Lorenzo yesterday, thanks to goalscorers Radamel Falcao Garcia and Matias Abelairas. The team may have not played pure attractive football throughout the 90 minutes, but they did show an organized and competitive scheme that clearly made River deserve the three points. With a strong defense and an effective offense, "los Millonarios" were able to win and therefore increase the team's total points in the Clausura to seven.

As mentioned previously, the defense had a good match (it was about time!). Gustavo Cabral played his best game since arriving in January, Paulo Ferrari recuperated the ball plenty of times, and Eduardo Tuzzio was firm. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Cristian Villagra, who had an excellent game. He had been playing well in the last few encounters, but yesterday he was arguably the best player on the pitch for a large amount of time. This is completely contrary to last season, where he was not able to find his form the whole year. If he continues playing like he has lately, he can become a class act for the club.

The best midfielders were probably Augusto Fernandez and Matias Abelairas. The two fought for each ball as if it were the last, and made a huge impact in the final score. Ariel Ortega, meanwhile, did not have a good night (besides a few good passes here and there). As for the fowards, Falcao's contributions were more than evident: he ran the whole game -like usual- and scored the first goal. Sebastian Abreu, on the other hand, showed little to nothing, and has yet to impress the fans.

The two goals:

The team's best characteristics were those of playing as a "team" and fighting for every ball. As seen above on the first goal, it was created by a set piece. But that corner kick was not just any corner kick: most players would have usually let that ball go out, but Augusto Fernandez fought for it till the end, forcing the San Lorenzo defender to touch it and concede a corner kick. The final result? Falcao's goal. This was constantly seen in the game, and although it may not be the prettiest way of playing football, its efficiency could lead to long term results and trohpies.

Our next game will be our midweek Libertadores match vs. America of Mexico. It will be a very tough match, but if River manage to repeat Sunday's performance a win is definitely obtainable. Make sure to check back on Tuesday for the preview!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

River - San Lorenzo: The Preview

River Plate will be facing San Lorenzo tomorrow in what will be the team's third appearance in the Torneo Clausura 2008.

After two games played, "los millonarios" currently hold 4 points (1 win and 1 tie). Think River didn't exactly get off to the perfect start? Think again.. After looking at San Lorenzo's start of the season, our partial records look glorious: they played 4 games (two for the Clausura, and two for the Libertadores), lost 3, and tied 1. What's even worse is that they haven't even scored a goal in any of their four matches. Either way, the "Cuervos" poor start shouldn't be taken for granted. They have arguably the best squad in the whole Argentine league, and from one day to the other they can transform losses to goleadas in their favor.

The following eleven have been chosen by Diego Simeone to start tomorrow:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Gustavo Cabral-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Matias Abelairas;
Ariel Ortega;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Sebastian Abreu

The confirmation of this team means the official return of the 4-3-1-2 formation, which hadn't been seen since Daniel Passarella resigned from his position. This proves that Simeone wasn't fully convinced with neither the 3-3-3-1 or the 4-2-3-1 formations he had fielded before, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he will stick with the 4-3-1-2 either. For now, though, this seems like the correct decision, for most of the players will feel comfortable and in their actual positions now (Falcao as a forward, and not a playmaker; Ortega in the center, and not on the left side; Augusto Fernandez being a bit more forward).

San Lorenzo, meanwhile, will have several different weapons on hand that will cause plenty of fear to Carrizo & Co. Andres D'Alessandro -in my opinion the best River player of the last decade-, was incorporated by Ramon Diaz's side in January. His constant jukes, precise passes, and magnificent shots will without a doubt pose a real threat. Forward Andres Silvera knows just how to put the ball past the net and will be looking to end CASLA's goal-less streak.

The game will be played in River's Monumental Stadium and will be shown live on Fox Sports en Espanol at 11:00 AM Pacific / 1:00 PM Eastern Time. A tape delay will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports World Canada at 2:00 PM Pacific / 5:00 PM Eastern Time.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Newell's Old Boys: 0 - River Plate: 0 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate finished the second round of the Torneo Clausura 2008 with a total of 4 of a possible 6 points. After defeating Gimnasia (JJ) last week, we tied 0-0 in a rather unimpressive match vs. Newell's Old Boys.

Although there were slight improvements as compared to our loss vs. San Martin in the Copa Libertadores, the team still failed to impress fans and has yet to succeed in portraying Diego Simeone's offensive tactics.

Both teams had a few good opportunities here and there, but the best player of the match was Juan Pablo Carrizo. The goalkeeper made several incredible saves (literally) and avoided a defeat to the hands of the "Leprosos". Our most interesting opportunities, meanwhile, were at times saved by Justo Villar (Newell's' goalkeeper), the goal post (on Cristian Villagra's shot), and the referree (who did not call a penalty against Sebastian Abreu -pictured above-).

Next week we must face San Lorenzo. The team will finally receive some rest, after having played three games this week following a tough pre-season. Hopefully this leads to some much needed improvement and three more points.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

U. San Martin: 2 - River Plate: 0 - Copa Libertadores 2008

First it was Cienciano, then Almagro, Godoy Cruz, San Martin (SJ), Tigre, Olimpo, Arsenal, Caracas...... now Universidad San Martin of Peru. Yes: River Plate have managed to achieve the unimaginable and lost to a team that was just recently founded 4 years ago and has an average crowd attendance of 50 people per match.

Truth be told, the Peruvians were not 11 Maradonas. Although they were constantly over-praised by the commentators, they did seem very mediocre and very few of them actually seemed like talented players. Their overall gameplay wasn't anything fantastic, and the only reason I could say they deserved the win was just because River played a worse, less organized game.

Our offense continously lacked ideas, while our defense went from bad to horrible. I leave you guys with the "P.R":

The Player Review -

Juan Pablo Carrizo: JP had a really good game and made some great saves. One of the few players that can actually escape from being bashed this time.
Paulo Ferrari: The ex-captain of the team was slow, attacked horribly, and defended even worse. If he is one day remembered for being a great player, it surely won't be for what he did yesterday.
Eduardo Tuzzio: The central defender continues showing signs that he will be turning 34-years old this year. Despite his positives, he has become a slow player who takes way too long to react (a common symptom for his age). Once a strong and secure player, we cannot rely on Tuzzio for these characteristics anymore.
Gustavo Cabral: The ex-Racing player still has a debt with River fans: having arrived a month ago, he still lacks good performances. Over the summer he received red cards, and was often the victim of poor performances. Yesterday wasn't an exception.
Cristian Villagra: Arguably the best on the backline, yet he still had a bad game. Not much was shown by the defender, though not too many errors were committed by him either.
Augusto Fernandez: Little to nothing. At the beginning he did a few interesting things, but his game decreased as time passed.
Nicolas Domingo: I love the kid and see a bright future ahead of him, but yesterday wasn't his day. He was replaced by Falcao during half-time, which was the correct decision based on his performance.
Leonardo Ponzio: The defensive midfielder had a fantastic game, especially when he was left as the lone DMF when Domingo left the field. He recuperated the ball throughout the whole game and made some amazing saves in which he single-handedly avoided goals. Ponzio was without a doubt the best player for "los millonarios" last night.
Ariel Ortega: "El Burrito" wasn't the player we are used to seeing: he failed his juke attempts, his passes were unsuccessful, and he had little overall influence in the team's offensive duties. As proven in the past, much more can be shown on behalf of Ariel.
Alexis Sanchez: Along with Ortega, he was probably the most marked player on the field. He did very little while on the pitch - a rare thing for the Chilean.
Sebastian Abreu: The Uruguayan had a relatively good game and was River's best attacking gun. A few good headers summed up the night for the foward, who was unable to get the ball past the goalkeeper.
The Substitutes -
Radamel Falcao Garcia: The Colombian replaced Domingo in the second half with the mission of adding offensive flare to the team. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful, though this could be due to the fact that he had to play further down the field than his usual position. He didn't touch the ball too often, causing his presence to not leave any marks.
Matias Abelairas: Decent game, yet little shown. There's always room for improvement.
Mauro Rosales: Nothing at all from the ex-Ajax foward. Many fans are starting to lose patience with him, and although he will continue to be given opportunities, his level of gameplay is expected to improve greatly if he plans to continue receiving chances.

Although this loss hurts deeply and could just be a preview of what the future will be like, one shouldn't be let down just yet: last year Boca Juniors were humiliated in the group stage (lost 3-0 to Cienciano and Toluca) and still won the tournament. In fact, the last time the champions of the Libertadores won their first game was in 2004 - in 2005, Sao Paulo tied with The Strongest (BOL), in 2006 Internacional couldn't defeat Maracaibo (VEN), and last year Boca had trouble taking one point vs. Bolivar (BOL).

My point? Nobody will be happy with yesterday's display, but we must not lose confidence and should stick with the team till the end.

Vamos River!

Monday, February 11, 2008

River Plate: 2 - Gimnasia (JJ): 0 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate defeated Gimnasia de Jujuy in our opening match of the Torneo Clausura 2008, with a final result of 2-0. The goals were scored by Matias Abelairas and Paulo Ferrari, both off of set pieces.

In the first half, River did not leave an overall good image. With Gimnasia's defensive tactical scheme (8 players defending, 2 attacking), it was hard for the team to find open spaces.

During the last 45 minutes, things changed: thanks to "Pitu" Abelairas' goal, the away team was forced to begin attacking and "los millonarios" began improving in terms of gameplay. Not only did Ferrari's goal arrive, but the team was able to create more chances that unfortunately did not go in.

Alexis Sanchez did not have one of his incredibly inspired nights, but he still managed to be one of the most interesting players on the field. Diego Buonanotte, who entered the field in the second half, was arguably the best player of the night.

The two goals:

Although it may not seem like that much of an important win, it truly was: in 2007 we were not able to defeat this same team (0-1 at home; 2-2 away). Looking into the present, it also had a great deal of matter, for none of the other "big 5" teams won (Boca tied with Central, Racing just got a point vs. Olimpo, Independiente lost to Lanus, and San Lorenzo were taken down by Newell's Old Boys).

With this game now officially a thing of the past, we must begin to concentrate on the future, which will included decisive compromises. The always-difficult Newell's Old Boys await us in Rosario for the next round of the Torneo Clausura, but we must first travel to Lima, Peru to face Universidad San Martin in our first match of the Copa Libertadores 2008.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

River - Gimnasia (JJ): The Preview

River Plate will be debuting in the Torneo Clausura 2008 tomorrow against Gimnasia (Jujuy). Hopes are high, and although no one can be fully confident on the team after last year's failures, it would be a lie to claim that one is not excited about Simeone's proposal of an attractive offensive football display.

"El Cholo" will be fielding the same team that defeated Boca Juniors last week, with the exception of Sebastian Abreu (his transfer hasn't gone through yet). Therefore, the following eleven will be playing from the first minute:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Eduardo Tuzzio-Gustavo Cabral-Cristian Villagra;
Oscar Ahumada-Matias Abelairas;
Mauro Rosales-Ariel Ortega-Alexis Sanchez;
Radamel Falcao Garcia

Keep in mind that although this will be the starting team tomorrow, there is no promise that they will continue being on the first team throughout the season: Ponzio and Gerlo will not be playing due to being suspended, Abreu's transfer hasn't gone through, Omar Merlo (defender from Colon) was just recently incorporated, and others such as Augusto Fernandez, Archubi, Nasuti, etc. will continue fighting for a spot.

Gimnasia (JJ), meanwhile, will be presenting a very conservative 3-5-1-1 (only one attacking midfielder and one foward). Unless a last-minute surprise is planned by the coach of "el lobo", River will have to rely heavily on Ortega and Sanchez's creativeness to get through their defensive scheme.

The match will be shown live on TyC Sports USA at 1:30 PM Pacific / 4:30 PM Eastern Time.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Argentina: 5 - Guatemala: 0 - Friendly in Los Angeles

Argentina defeated the Guatemalan National Team by 5-0 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The goals were scored by Higuain (2), Lavezzi, Maidana, and Marco Ruben.

I am not going to get into a detailed report, since this blog is about River and not the Argentine NT, but if you'd like to see what it was like in the stands, you can read my report here.

The following is a compilation I made, which includes both photos and videos of the fans:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

River Plate: 3 - Boca Juniors: 2 - Copa Revancha 2008

River Plate have been declared the first Argentine Bi-Champions of 2008. Wait, wait, wait.. don't get too excited: the team only won two friendly tournaments (Torneo de Verano and the Copa Revancha 2008), but at least it shows that the team is heading in the right direction.

The second friendly trophy of the season was won after "los millonarios" defeated Boca Juniors by 3-2. The game began with the Xeneizes winning with a great header by Gabriel Paletta. After that, River were showing little sign of life, allowing our rivals to dominate the game. Fortunately enough Radamel Falcao Garcia was able to find the net, allowing us to tie the match. A while later Abreu would score. Before you knew it, we were (undeservedly) winning 2-1. From thereon after, River learned to take control of the game. Led by an inspired Alexis Sanchez, the team produced an inexistant penalty -taken by Ariel Ortega- that would increase our lead even more. After that, the team failed to take advantage of a few other situations, and finished the first half above 3-1.

As soon as the second half commenced, referee Sergio Pezzotta seemed to want to apologize to Boca Juniors for his first half mistake (called an inexistant penalty for River) and awarded them with an inexistant penalty as well. Just like in the other play, a player was expelled, this time Paulo Ferrari being the victim. Martin Palermo then traded the penalty for a goal. Having lost a defender, Diego Simeone was forced to make a defensive substitution, and therefore subbed out Ariel Ortega with Rodrigo Archubi. This caused River to lose plenty of offensive power. Eventually Leonardo Ponzio and Gustavo Cabral were also expelled, leaving us with only 8 players for the remainder of the match. With two more players on the field, Boca had the game opened up to them, yet they failed to score one more goal.

The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo: No key saves, no major mistakes. Decent game for JP.
Paulo Ferrari: Poor Paulo had to put up with Rodrigo Palacio's diving and complains throughout the whole game. In fact, one of Palacio's dives in the box earned him a red card.
Gustavo Cabral: The ex-Racing player still hasn't consolidated himself as a starter on this team. Although he is considered one of the starting eleven, he hasn't done much to earn himself the spot. From the impression he's left me in the last few friendlies, he seems a bit nervous and commits a lot of fouls. Either way, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and some time to improve.
Eduardo Tuzzio: Not the same player as a few years ago, but still one of our best in defense. Last night he covered Palermo well, and made him unnoticeable throughout most of the game.
Cristian Villagra: I was surprised by the level of the ex-Rosario Central player. Although he's one of the players on our current squad whom I dislike most, he did play a good match, both offensive and defensively. If he continues playing like this, I would say it's fair to give him another shot.
Oscar Ahumada: Recuperated the ball plenty of times, and seems like he is regaining himself a spot.
Matias Abelairas: "Pitu" made Ahumada's job a lot easier by recovering the ball constantly on the left side. Interesting game by Abelairas, who also played well against San Lorenzo on Saturday.
Ariel Ortega: Not the best of games for "el Burrito". He did participate in two goals, though: he assisted Abreu in our second goal, and scored the third one himself.
Alexis Sanchez: Another fantastic game for the Chilean. I would go as far as saying that he was the sole reason we were initally able to flip the partial 0-1 result in the first half. An amazing assist to Falcao for the 1-1 tie, and an immense display of his dribbling abilities in our third goal were the key parts of his performance. I only wish his loan with us (ends in June) could be extended: I just can't get enough of his Jogo Bonito.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: After recuperating his spot on the first team, the Colombian did not let Simeone down. He scored an exiquiste goal, and played an overall good game. One of our best players, just behind Sanchez.
Sebastian Abreu: The Uruguayan scored our second goal. Although it may initially look like an easy goal, upon watching the replays one may realize that he could have missed it as well. I am not saying that I didn't expect him to score, but I believe it was actually a lot harder that it seemed. But he didn't only help our attack: after being left with 8 (2 defenders and one defensive midfielder expelled), "el Loco" went back and helped with the team's defensive duties. This definitely made him go up one level in my books. He did commit some mistakes, though, such as often taking too long to shoot, but I'll cut him some slack due to the other positives he showed.
The Substitutes -
Rodrigo Archubi: The ex-Lanus player continues leaving me with the same impression as in the last few friendlies: he's way too slow. His attacks are way too obvious at his speed, while his defending isn't anything miraculous. Unfortunately, it seems as if we made the wrong choice by bringing him in.
Leonardo Ponzio: Came in in the second half and was expelled. Not much more I can say.

The goals can be seen by clicking on the text in red. If anything, here are the complete highlights: