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SPORTS | 06-08-2023 19:07

River live to fight another day, but early exit for Argentina's women

The biggest match of the past seven days for the Millonario, indeed one that may shape the rest of this season, occurred midweek with a huge comeback victory in the Copa Libertadores,

The fact that the Liga Profesional title had already been in their possession for a fortnight did nothing to take the shine off River Plate's celebrations in front of a packed Monumental last weekend. But the biggest match of the past seven days for the Millonario, indeed one that may shape the rest of this season, occurred midweek with a huge comeback victory in the Copa Libertadores, thanks to another decisive intervention from one of the Liga's campaign unlikely heroes.

Before Pablo Solari entered the action against Internacional the odds appeared stacked against the champions as they endured the most ill-timed of hangovers. A glancing header from Enner Valencia had put the Brazilian visitors ahead on the stroke of half-time, putting River in a tough situation indeed. Defeat at home would rank up the pressure ahead of the last-16 decider next week in Porto Alegre, raising the chances of a swift end to Martín Demichelis' maiden Libertadores quest and an even quicker end to those domestic celebrations. But Demichelis had an ace up his sleeve: River's very own supersub, a revelation since joining from Colo Colo towards the end of 2022.

The midfielder needed all of two minutes after entering the action in place of Enzo Pérez to make the difference, breaking the Inter offside trap and drilling home from an acute angle to level the scoreline. And with 12 minutes to play, he struck again with another lightning break and finish, turning a potentially nightmarish evening for the Millonario into a strong win putting them in pole position ahead of the second leg. That double punch took him up to eight goals for 2023, demonstrating above all the embarrassment of riches Demichelis has at his disposal in the middle of the park which could prove crucial in the hunt for the coveted Copa.

There were not as nearly as many fireworks for Boca's knockout opener, but they will likewise be confident of progressing. Their 0-0 draw in Montevideo against Nacional was classic Xeneize: giving nothing up on the road while offering even less themselves (failing to muster a single shot on target). Jorge Almirón's men are now hot favourites to go through, more so given their recent formidable form at La Bombonera – and you can expect a far more adventurous outing in front of their own fans next week.

 

An early exit for Argentina

Sadly, there will be no manic celebrations around the Obelisk to tie in with the end of the 2023 Women's World Cup. Bleary-eyed fans who braved the 3am kick-off time were left disappointed as Argentina signed off their winless group stage with defeat to Sweden, having picked up one point from a possible nine in Australia and New Zealand.

It bears reminding, of course, that a repeat of the heroics seen from Messi and Co. was almost out of the question. Women's football in Argentina lags far behind that of its peers in Europe and North America, with this being only the fourth time they have even qualified for the finals – while they are still waiting for their first victory at a World Cup.

Even so, the overall impression left was disappointing. Aside from a frenetic last 20 minutes against South Africa which yielded their only two goals of the tournament, the Albiceleste overall made little impact down under and were left needing a miracle against a Swedish team which ranks among the world's best. Still, there is no doubt the sport is on the right track. More and more female stars are getting the chance to play in the game's best leagues across the globe, while domestically they are slowly reaping the fruits of the professionalisation, however partial and parsimonious, introduced just four years ago. More investment is needed, and conditions for those even at the top level are far from optimal; but despite this rather muted campaign there is still room for optimism.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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