From Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s heroics in which he scored a clutch header on the stroke of full-time at West Brom to keep Liverpool’s top-four ambitions alive, and now to one of Argentina’s most recognizable teams River Plate, who have beaten Colombian outfit Santa Fe in the CONMEBOL Libertadores on Wednesday night, despite having to play the game without substitutes and being forced to field an outfield player in goal. Need I say en fuego!
From a Premier league fixture at the Hawthorms in the English city of Birmingham, to a Copa Libertadores game – thousands of miles across the Atlantic – played at the El Monumental stadium in the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires, football fans across two ends of the world have been treated to some headline grabbing goalkeeper drama this week.
How have we got here?
The River Plate squad were rocked by an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus at the club’s training ground last week, with 20 members of the first team – including all four senior goalkeepers – returning positive test results to leave manager Marcelo Gallardo with a frail starting XI, ahead of an upcoming group game match-up in the South American interpretation of Europe’s UEFA Champions League (CAF Champions League, if you have any familiarity with African football).
River Plate are four-time winners of the Copa Libertadores
They proceeded to request for an emergency inclusion of fifth and sixth-choice goalkeepers for the game, only to be turned down by the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).
The action: River Plate 2-1 Santa Fe
Veteran midfielder Enzo Perez would not have expected to play too much of a part in this game, if at all. But it was him whom Gallardo turned to for a special assignment in between the sticks. And what a shift it was!
River would prove to understand exactly what they had to do, as two quick-fire goals within the opening six minutes; the first coming in the third minute from midfielder Fabrizio Angileri, 27, before forward Julian Alvarez, 21, put the home team in firm control with a second just three minutes later.
The second-half started more slowly, but Gallardo’s patched up XI were the more comfortable side. You could tell they wanted to help Perez keep that clean sheet so bad, but it was not to be as Kelvin Osorio halved the deficit for Santa Fe in the 73rd minute to set up a nervy last seventeen minutes.
The visitors piled some late pressure on as they searched for an equalizer, with manager Harold Rivera throwing highly rated 15-year-old forward Hollman Camilo McCormick into the action, but River held on to their 2-1 advantage to ensure the Colombians made their way back to Bogota empty-handed.
River Plate have now taken their points tally to nine from five games, to move to the top of the standings in Group D.
A depleted squad, an outfield player in goal and with no substitutes, but it is Gallardo’s men who stood gallant. They have not just risen against their Colombian opponents, but also against Covid-19, and some within the club would feel CONMEBOL too.
The only shame here is this game has happened behind closed doors, without the El Monumental Stadium being lit up by the presence of 70,000 passionate River fans and ultras chanting while waving flags and showing off some of the most colorful tifos in all of South American football.
What’s next for River Plate?
River Plate host Brazilian side Fluminense to El Monumentalin in five days’ time and club medics would be racing against time to have at least some members of the first team back.
Enzo Perez would probably not have to be a goalkeeper this time though, with the club still trying to get fifth-choice goalkeeper Alan Leonardo Diaz’s registration over the line.
The 21-year-old would look to continue from where he stopped in last Sunday’s 1-1 Superclásico draw against archrivals Boca Juniors in the Primera Liga.