SAO PAULO (AP) River Plate of Argentina reached the final of the South American cup on Tuesday after shocking defending champion Gremio of Brazil, setting up a possible championship match between two Argentinian teams in the Copa Libertadores for the first time in history.
River beat the Brazilians 2-1 in Porto Alegre and advanced on the away goals rule to its first South American final since 2015. Last week, River lost 1-0 to Gremio in Buenos Aires.
Midfielder Pity Martinez scored the decisive goal in stoppage time after the referee awarded River a penalty following a video review that confirmed a handball by defender Matheus Bressan.
Leonardo scored for Gremio in the 36th minute and had a clear chance with Everton squandering an opportunity face to face against goalkeeper Franco Armani to make it 2-0 for the hosts at 66 minutes.
But River tied it in the 81st minute with a header by Colombian striker Rafael Borre, after a cross by Martinez, putting more pressure on the defending champions. After the match Gremio players said that goal should have been disallowed because of a Borre handball.
“We were the only team on the pitch in the first half. They only had long balls. We had power and strategy. That’s why other teams respect us,” Martinez said.
River’s adversary in its quest for a fourth Copa Libertadores title will be known on Wednesday, when Boca Juniors defends its 2-0 first-leg victory against Brazil’s Palmeiras, coached by World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.
If Boca survives, it will play its arch-rival in the final for the first time. Never before have two Argentinian clubs played for the Copa Libertadores.
River’s victory came amid some controversy. Footage at Arena do Gremio showed coach Marcelo Gallardo entering his team’s locker room at halftime despite his suspension for the game.
“Come, come, take a good picture,” Gallardo told journalists as he left the locker room. The coach was suspended for one game by South America’s soccer body because of constant delays by his team to return to the pitch after the first 45 minutes of several matches.
Coaching assistant Matias Biscay, who replaced Gallardo, said the coach convinced River players they could turn the tables during the halftime talk when the score was 1-0 for the Brazilians.
“The players saw they could come back, even before they entered the locker room. Marcelo convinced they this win could not escape,” Biscay said in a press conference.
Gremio coach Renato Portaluppi said his team was “robbed” by the VAR referee, but not because of the penalty awarded to the Argentinians. He believes River’s Borre intentionally touched the ball with the hand as he scored River’s first goal.
“I would rather lose 5-0 than lose it like this. I can’t blame the referee on the pitch, but I can blame the VAR referee,” Portaluppi said. “Who was taking care of VAR? Was it Stevie Wonder? Everyone else saw it.”
Gremio goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe said the VAR decision wasn’t to blame for the loss.
“We didn’t take enough care. VAR is fair. If the referee said it is a penalty, it is a penalty,” Grohe said.
The Copa Libertadores finals will be played on Nov. 7 and 28.