River Plate have based themselves in Valdebebas as the Argentinean side prepare to face Boca Juniors in the rearranged second leg of the Copa Libertadores final this Sunday night in Madrid.
CONMEBOL’s decision, said by River coach Marcelo Gallardo to be ‘absurd’, wasn’t a popular one with either of the clubs involved.
Boca wanted the trophy awarded to them following the incidents surrounding the twice-postponed match at River’s Monumental stadium and CONMEBOL took the decision to play the final not only outside of Argentina but outside of the continent as well!
The game on Sunday, which could well be decided on penalties, sees the two Buenos Aires rivals face each other at the Bernabéu with Boca also basing themselves in the capital and training at the headquarters of the Spanish Football Federation in Laz Rozas.
Neither club wanted the final played outside of South America and at one stage River president Rodolfo D’Onofrio even threatened to pull out of the game.
But despite their protests the scene is set for this weekend; and with both clubs having been in Madrid since Thursday, the players didn’t waste much time before getting down to work at their respective venues.
River have had a run of injuries that deprived Marcelo Gallardo of key players in recent weeks. The main query for Sunday has been over the fitness of Ignaccio (Nacho) Scocco, who has been missing from the team for almost the last five weeks with a calf muscle injury.
Nacho was injured in the early stages of the league match against Estudiantes de La Plata in early November and missed the first leg of the final in Boca’s La Bombonera stadium. He’s been a worry for Gallardo ever since; and the subject of many a debate amongst River fans about his chances of making the second leg.
There’s no doubt that the delay caused by the double postponement will have helped his recovery; but it remains to be seen whether the odds are in favour of Nacho making a return at the Bernabéu.
Although his fitness levels will have dropped to the extent that it would be a huge gamble for Marcelo Gallardo even to name him for a place on the bench, Nacho managed to do some work at Valdebebas so you never know.
It will be interesting to see how River’s preparations progress between now and Sunday; and in particular the depth of Nacho’s involvement in training.
As a coach, Marcelo Gallardo is renowned for keeping his cards close to his chest and barring the odd exception, most of River’s training sessions back in Buenos Aires over the past three weeks have been held behind closed doors.
It’s not all bad news for River, though. Most of the injuries have recovered and the players involved having been cleared to return to training in time for the Final.
In particular, Rodrigo Mora (synovitis of the right hip) and Juan Quintero (left calf muscle strain) will be observed in training over the next 24 hours to assess for any adverse reactions as a result.
River also had goalkeeper Franco Armani injured not so long ago but he’s been back in the team for several games now; making a point-blank stop from Boca’s Darío Benedetto in the last minute of the first leg to keep the scores level.
Back in the team as well is skipper Leonardo Ponzio; a key figure in River’s line-up. Leo missed the first leg with a muscle injury but has since returned to the team and will lead the side once again at the weekend.
A fully-fit Ponzio is instrumental to River’s recent successes on the domestic front and he’s likely to be one of Marcelo Gallardo’s key players on the night.
River’s medical team have certainly been hard at work this season. In addition to those players already mentioned, Luciano Lollo has a stress injury of the second metatarsal in his right foot; while both Nahuel Gallardo and Cristian Ferreira picked up calf muscle injuries in River’s Superliga match against Gimnasia La Plata at the Monumental last Sunday.
Meanwhile over at Las Rozas, Boca have listed a squad of 24 for the game; including Carlos Tevez and Cristian Pavón who has been injured recently. Also in the Boca squad is Pablo Pérez; who along with Gonzalo Lamardo was one of the players at the centre of the drama over the postponed second leg in Buenos Aires.
Boca also arrived in Madrid on Thursday; and like River, got down to training right away and the squad have been urged by Carlos Tevez to focus on the football. Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari - himself a former River player - has also expressed his hopes that by playing in the Bernabéu, the opportunity exists for football to come to the fore.
From an injury aspect though, apart from the well-publicised reactions to the incidents surrounding the postponed game, Boca have Frank Fabra currently going through ACL rehab and doubts remain on paper as to whether Pablo Pérez will play on Sunday.
But like Marcelo Gallardo, Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto isn’t giving away too much information either.
There might well be some late - or even surprise- decisions made by both coaches as match day approaches!