ABU DHABI: Argentinian giants River Plate crashed down from the delight of winning the South American Copa Libertadores to the embarrassment of losing to hosts Al Ain in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
The Millonarios, who reached the world tournament by defeating old rivals Boca Juniors to land the continental crown in controversial circumstances, lost 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 extra-time draw.
In the final Al Ain will face reigning world and European champions Real Madrid or Japan’s Kashima Antlers.
Argentinian newspaper Clarin described River’s defeat as “a global-level catastrophe” after Enzo Perez, one of River’s heroes in their Superclasic trimph over Boca in Madrid, missed the last spot kick.
Al Ain went ahead after only three minutes when when a cross from Mohamed Ahmed was headed home by Marcus Berg through the legs of keeper Franco Armani but River recovered to equalise and take the lead with two goals in the next 13 minutes from Santos Borre.
Brazilian forward Caio equalised six minutes into the second half but River could have won the game inside normal time. Mohamed Ahmad brought down Milton Casco in the penalty box but Gonzalo Martinez snapped his spot kick against the bar.
Extra time produced no further goals and all the spotkicks in the shootout were converted – until Khalid Eisa saved River’s fifth and last time from Perez.
River coach Marcelo Gallardo insisted that the defeat did not tarnish the achievement in defeating Boca to win the Copa Libertadores but hinted that the players came into the world semi-final still recovering from the hangover of triumph in Madrid.
Gallardo said: “This was always going to be a dangerous match for us and in some of the key moments we did not quite possess the focus and concentration we needed. Then, when you reach penalties, it can always go either way.
“We can still fly home and celebrate because what we managed the other week was historic and is not tarnished by this defeat.”