River’s tricky tie
River Plate v Argentinos Juniors
Live on Betfair
River Plate were very much in the spotlight during the final group matches, after a covid breakout within the squad saw just 11 players fit to play against Sante Fe in their penultimate match, which saw midfielder Enzo Perez step up and play in goal.
Despite this, the Argentinian giants won 2-1 on home soil and despite losing 3-1 to Fluminense with a slightly stronger side, it was their victory over the Colombian side saw them qualify for the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth.
However, it’s worth remembering before covid almost ruined their campaign, River Plate had defeated Junior at home and drew their three away matches – by no means an easy task in this competition.
Their next opponents, Argentinos Juniors, will be delighted they have made it through to the knockout stages, having secured back to back victories against Atletico Nacional, tournament winners back in 2016, as well as an important away win against Gus Poyet’s Universidad Catolica.
Despite finishing on 12 points, this was arguably one of the weakest groups in the tournament. Argentinos will need to prove they can compete against the best and this is their chance to do just that.
But this fixture can be analysed a lot closer due to the fact they both face each other domestically. To the surprise of many, Argentinos beat River Plate 1-0 in their own back yard back in March, a victory which followed three consecutive draws between the two sides. In fact, you have to go back to 2015 the last time River Plate defeated Argentinos.
Both sides head into this fixture having not played a competitive match since May, and so there may well be some rustiness and match fitness lacking, pointing towards a tight game in my opinion.
Franco Armani, River Plate’s number one, is currently away with Argentina in the Copa America, and so the home side may turn to either Lux German or Bologna Enrique, both turning 39 this year.
Gonzalo Montiel and Julian Alvarez may also miss out because of international duty – three key players for River.
River Plate are clear favourites in the market due to their stature and home advantage, but with Argentinos barely having to travel and clearly not being intimidated by their opponents already this season, under 2.5 goals looks the play in this one at 3/4.
Champions should prove too strong
Univ. Catolica v Palmeiras
Live on Betfair
As you can tell from my ante post column, I’m a huge fan of Palmeiras and the way in which they play. They are fearless, direct and look to outscore their opponents – a perfect mix for bettors and football fans.
Their first task in the knockout stages is to head to Chile, where Gus Poyet’s Universidad Catolica awaits.
After losing their opening two group matches, it looked as though Catolica were once again going to fall short and fail to qualify for the round of 16. However, three wins out of their next four saw them finally shift that voodoo for the first time.
Their saving grace was a complete smash and grab against Argentinos Juniors, who were reduced to 10 men in the 28th minute when completely in control of the match. Despite playing with 10, Argentinos continued to poke and probe but they were caught out on the counter with 16 minutes to go and Catolica were somehow able to put 10 men behind the ball and hold on for all three points.
Some might say they’ve stood up and been strong in this competition, but a team like Palmeiras will quickly be able to bring them down to earth – and this tie could be over before the second leg takes place. With 20 goals to their name in just five matches, Poyet’s side will have their work cut out if they are to win the match.
Looking at the odds, I’m surprised with the price of Palmeiras here at 20/23, as although they’ve proven a little shaky defensively at times, with the likes of Rony (six goals already in this competition) and Ze Rafael (two goals) fit and ready to start, the Brazilians should prove why they are the current holders in Chile.