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31st Oct 2018

Referee protected by riot police as River Plate win Copa Libertadores semi-final in controversial circumstances

After River Plate's late winner against Grêmio in the Copa Libertadores last night, the referee had to be protected by riot police

Reuben Pinder

The weird and wonderful world of South American football

River Plate reached the Copa Libertadores final last night in dramatic circumstances after a late red card for Brazilian side Grêmio and a 95th minute penalty – awarded with the help of VAR – saw the Argentines sneak through on away goals.

The controversy at the end of the game predictably sparked an emotional reaction from the Grêmio players, who surrounded the referee after the final whistle. But they couldn’t get to him, thanks to the wall of riot police protecting referee Andres Cunha from every angle.

South American football fans are famously passionate, and that passion can sometimes overspill. With such high stakes, huge precautions were taken to protect the officials from any violence post-match, and wisely so, given the reaction from the players and fans alike.

It all stemmed from the referee’s decision to show Grêmio’s Bressan a red card for deliberate handball, after seven minutes of deliberation and multiple checks on the pitch-side screen.

Five minutes into an additional 13, Gonzalo Nicolás Martínez fired River into the final with a sweetly struck penalty, putting the Buenos Aires side on course to win their fifth Copa Libertadores trophy.

Barring a miraculous comeback from Palmeiras in the second leg of the other semi-final, River will come up against their city rivals Boca Juniors in the two-legged final.

Buenos Aires police might need to give the army a call, given the fierce rivalry between the teams whose rivalry has been justifiably nicknamed the ‘superclásico’.