Abu Dhabi: River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo immediately turned his attentions to the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi from December 12-22 after beating bitter city rivals Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final in Madrid on Sunday.
“When I hugged him, he said, ‘we’re going for more’,” revealed River sporting director Enzo Francescoli of Gallardo after the game, which Los Millonarios won 3-1 in extra-time and 5-3 on aggregate.
The former Monaco and Paris St-Germain midfielder’s impassioned mutterings subconsciously answer two burning questions of Gallardo at a time when he can’t speak for himself.
He didn’t attend the post-match conference and instead had to send his assistant Matias Biscay, because he is still serving a touchline ban.
But in four words passed on to press by the director, he answers what the Argentine side’s ambitions are in the forthcoming Club World Cup, and whether he will indeed still be around to fulfil them, with speculation mounting of his imminent departure to Europe.
With the likes of compatriots Santiago Solari at Real Madrid, Diego Simeone at Atletico, Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds, Argentine coaches are in vogue in Europe at the moment, and with two Copa titles now to his name, Gallardo could be the latest in demand.
For the meantime though, River move on to the UAE with the aim of becoming the first Argentine side to upset European opposition, and in this case it will ironically be Solari’s Real who they will most likely face in an all-Argentine-coached final at Zayed Sports City on December 22.
“He will go to Europe at some point, but right now he’s at his home and it’s hard for him to leave,” said River captain Leonardo Ponzio after the game.
“It’s important that he has told us for now he wants to stay. But, of course, like everyone else one day he will go to Europe.”
Brazilian teams have made up all of the four sides to have disrupted European dominance so far over 14 editions of the Club World Cup, but never an Argentine team despite four trips to the final, the last by River themselves, who lost 3-0 to Barcelona in 2015.
After coming from behind through Lucas Pratto’s 68th minute equaliser to cancel out Dario Benedetto’s 44th minute opener, followed by two extra-time goals from Juan Quintero and Gonzalo Martinez on 109 and 122 minutes, River will now fancy their chances against a beleaguered Real.
Solari’s side find themselves fifth in La Liga after their worst start to a season in 17-years, but equally they need to win in Abu Dhabi to become the first side to win three Club World Cups in a row, while in doing so edging ahead of Barcelona for most tournament wins with four.
“This group of players and this coaching staff is incredible,” said Francescoli. “The capacity and humility they have is tremendous.
“It was a very tough game because it was a superclasico (Buenos Aires derby). Everything that has happened over the last 40 days has been crazy for everyone,” he added in reference to the second leg of the final having to be rescheduled and moved from Buenos Aires to Madrid. Crowd trouble saw two attempts to stage the game in Argentina abandoned late last month after the Boca team bus was attacked on the way to the stadium by River fans injuring several players.
The Club World Cup kicks off on Wednesday with host UAE league winning side Al Ain taking on New Zealand’s Wellington in the play-off for a chance to meet Tunisia’s ES Tunis in Saturday’s quarter-final. Saturday’s other quarter will see Japan’s Kashima Antlers take on Mexico’s Guadalajara. The winner of the first quarter against ES Tunis will play River Plate in the first semi on December 18, while the second semi will see either Kashima or Guadalajara take on Real Madrid on December 19. All sides other than Al Ain are champions of their respective continent.