River Plate booked their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015 thanks to a 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima in what was a keenly contested and close encounter from first minute to last.
Lucas Alario’s 72nd-minute goal was the difference between the two sides and the Argentinians will now face the winners of the second semi-final between Barcelona and Guanzghou Evergrande, the losers of which will battle for third against the J.League champions.
River Plate started the match on the front foot, dominating play and possession and pressing Sanfrecce whenever they had the ball. It forced the Japanese side into a number of uncharacteristic mistakes. All too often they gave the ball away cheaply, handing the initiative to the South Americans.
However, the Argentinians were limited to just a few half chances, with Leonardo Ponzio’s drive from distance their only noteworthy effort in the opening 45 minutes. It was the Japanese who created the first half’s better chances.
Sanfrecce’s initial opportunity came through a mistake when Eder Balanta’s missed header presented Yusuke Minagawa with a one-on-one opportunity. River Plate No1 Marcelo Barovero was fearless in rushing off his line, narrowing the angle and blocking the attempt. Striker and keeper collided heavily, but both were able to continue after treatment.
The longer it remained goalless, the more Sanfrecce grew in confidence and only another fine save from Barovero kept the scoreline blank. Kazuyuki Morisaki played the ball to Minagawa who held it up beautifully before laying it off to Yusuke Chajima. The pacey midfielder cut inside and hit a dipping shot which the 30-year-old turned over the bar.
Hajime Moriaysu’s side were becoming bolder with every minute and once again Barovero had to be in fine form to deny Minagawa, reacting superbly to turn his shot from close distance away for a corner.
The second half began with a golden chance for River Plate and Rodrigo Mora. The Uruguayan forward blasted the ball over the bar from ten yards after good work from Carlos Sanchez, who was constantly looking to get forward.
Both managers made changes to try to find the opening goal and it came thanks to the intervention of a substitute in the 72nd minute. Tabare Viudez, who had replaced Leonardo Pisculichi just eight minutes earlier, sent a free-kick into the box. Takuto Hayashi, under pressure from Jonatan Maidana, couldn’t claim it and Lucas Alario was on hand to turn the ball home. It was the first goal Sanfrecce had conceded in 252 minutes at this FIFA Club World Cup.
River went close again through Mora in the final stages as his shot, which had Hayashi beaten trickled just wide. Morisaki had a drive from the edge from the edge of the box in the final minute, but Barovero, as he had done so often during the match, held firm to send his side through.