River Plate told to take Al-Ain challenge seriously in FIFA Club World Cup last-four clash

The Buenos Aires side have arrived in the UAE fresh from their Copa Libertadores win over arch-rivals Boca Juniors. (AFP)
Updated 17 December 2018
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River Plate told to take Al-Ain challenge seriously in FIFA Club World Cup last-four clash

  • Marcelo Gallardo warns side UAE champions will provide a tough challenge.
  • Winners likely to face Real Madrid to have to overcome Kashima Antlers in their semifinal.

LONDON: River Plate go into today’s FIFA Club World Cup as overwhelming favorites but have been warned that if they take victory for granted against Al-Ain they could face an embarrassing early exit from the UAE.
From the start of the tournament it has been widely expected that the final would be between the Copa Libertadores winners and the defending champions, Real Madrid. Both sides enter the competition at the semifinal stage — River this evening at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, and Real at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. But the message from River boss Marcelo Gallardo to his players is that they cannot take it easy against the UAE champions.
“We had the chance to watch both Al-Ain matches, good to see this team in action, I think it is going to be a tough match for us,” the Argentine coach said.
“They have shown they deserve to be in the semifinal, They are dangerous when they attack, we have to play with a high level of concentration.”
Such is the nature of the tournament — the bigger teams get byes to the last-four stage — that there is always an inbuilt advantage for the likes of Real and River. Al-Ain’s journey has been more arduous and tiring. “The Boss” were 3-0 down before half-time against Team Wellington in the opener last week, before storming back to make it 3-3 and winning the subsequent penalty shootout 4-3. They then shocked the African Champions League champions Esperance de Tunis 3-0 on Saturday.
But Gallardo, above, is not expecting any advantage for his side, despite the fact they should have the fresher legs.
“I don’t know the fact that Al-Ain have played 210 mins is an advantage for us,” he said. “They will have a lot of good feelings as the host team qualifying for the semifinal. They have performed well to get this far.”
Caio is the Al-Ain danger man River will have to keep an eye on. The Brazilian would doubtless love nothing more than to help his UAE side topple the Argentine giants. Gallardo, however, claimed Al-Ain have many threats and his side would not fall into the trap of concentrating too much on one man.
“Caio is one of the top players in Al-Ain but we cannot think only of him, they have many other good players. He is a very important player for them,” he said.
If there is a worry it is that River might still be tired from the journey and mentally sapped after their controversial Copa Libertadores win against arch-rivals Boca Juniors. The second leg of that clash had to be called off due to fan violence which saw the Boca coach attacked. Ultimately the match was replayed at Real’s Bernabeu stadium in Madrid and a 3-1 win for River saw them, and not their Buenos Aires neighbors, make the trip to the UAE.
“Our aim is to play in the final, it would be important for us to play in the final and win it but first we have to get past (Al-Ain),” Gallardo said. “Our Copa win will last forever, it is always there. But knowing the players as I do, the players will not stop — they want to carry on winning.
“The difficult thing was to change our approach quickly, time difference, finding it difficult to sleep especially when you are on a high. But I told them, let’s think about what’s coming as it’s a privilege. The message was we have to adapt quickly to a new country.”


Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

Updated 18 June 2019
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Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

  • The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay
  • Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time

SAO PAULO: Chile’s experienced Copa America team proved too good for Japan’s young squad.

The two-time defending champions opened their Copa America campaign with a 4-0 win over the Asian guests on Monday, with Eduardo Vargas scoring a pair of goals to become Chile’s all-time leading scorer in the South American competition.

Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez also scored for the titleholders, which are trying to become the first nation to win three straight Copa titles since Argentina in the late 1940s. Vargas scored twice in the second half to reach 12 goals with Chile in the tournament, two more than Enrique Hormazabal.

The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay, which opened with a 4-0 win over Ecuador on Sunday.

“Chile has players who are very experienced, who know each other very well,” Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “The challenge today was to avoid a bad debut. We were humble and entered with our feet on the ground. We were playing against a team that was very competitive in all sectors.”

Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time, brought to Brazil a young squad focused on the Olympic tournament at home next year. The Japanese youngsters struggled against the veteran Chilean squad which was in control from the start at the Morumbi Stadium.

Chile won the last two editions of the Copa America, beating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the final both in 2015 and 2016. Argentina is the only team to have won three consecutive South American titles, from 1945-47.

Boosted by most of the 23,253 fans at the Morumbi, Chile created most of the significant chances.

After Pulgar headed in a corner-kick cross by Charles Aranguiz in the 41st minute, Vargas added to the lead with a shot from outside the area in the 54th after a pass by Mauricio Isla.

Sanchez found the net with a header in the 82nd, and Vargas closed the scoring about a minute later with a long lob shot over goalkeeper Keisuke Osako as he charged from his net.

It was a good opening match for Sanchez after a difficult season with Manchester United.

“I was coming off a difficult month-and-a-half,” said the 30-year-old Sanchez, who injured his ankle late in the season. “I struggled in the first 45 minutes, I felt tired, but I improved in the second half.”

Rueda, debuting with Chile in an official tournament, has been gradually revamping the squad since he took over in 2018. Among the veterans back from the team’s recent triumphs were Vargas, Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, who also had a good opener.

Japan last played in the Copa America in 1999, when it was eliminated in the group stage. Among the youngsters in Brazil was Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old who has joined Real Madrid’s “B” team for next season. He played from the start and was a threat for Japan in attack. He got an ovation from the crowd at the Morumbi after getting past a defender with a ball through his legs about 10 minutes into the match. He nearly scored after a nifty move past a defender inside the area in the 65th, but his shot hit the outside of the net. Japan had a few good chances to get on the board toward the end of the game but could not capitalize on them.