SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Argentina's River Plate beat Palmeiras 2-0 in the second leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final on Tuesday but it was not enough to overturn a 3-0 defeat from the first leg as the Brazilians advanced to the final on aggregate.
In a thrilling tie in Sao Paulo, the game hinged on a series of contentious decisions that went against the visitors after consultations with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
River, 2-0 up at halftime, had a third goal disallowed early in the second half and a penalty award rescinded with 10 minutes left after VAR decisions.
They also had Roberto Rojas sent off for a soft second yellow card with 18 minutes remaining.
“It wasn’t our best game but we qualified,” said Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton. “There are days when the hand of God helps, the ball just flies past, a penalty is chalked off, a goal is chalked off.”
The 3-2 aggregate victory means Palmeiras will play either Boca Juniors or Santos in the final of the Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of UEFA's Champions League, later this month.
Palmeiras, hot favourites to qualify for their first Libertadores final in two decades, should have been 1-0 up after 10 minutes but Rony was thwarted by River goalkeeper Franco Armani when through on goal.
River upped the tempo at an empty Allianz Parque and took the lead after 29 minutes when Rojas powered in a header from a corner kick.
The goal stunned Palmeiras and they conceded a second two minutes before halftime when Rafael Santos Borre took advantage of poor defending to steal in and nod home a cross from the right.
Gonzalo Montiel thought he had made it 3-3 on aggregate seven minutes into the second half but a VAR review disallowed his goal for an offside decision during the build-up phase.
River felt even more aggrieved with 10 minutes left when a penalty award was withdrawn after a long consultation with the VAR.
“If we’re going to get knocked out then this is the way to do it, giving everything and taking it right to the final whistle,” said River’s Enzo Perez.
The final of the 2020 tournament was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and is now scheduled to take place at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 30.
Palmeiras will face either Santos or Boca Juniors, who play the second leg of their tie on Wednesday. The teams drew 0-0 in the first leg in Argentina last week.
(Writing by Andrew Downie in London; Editing by Peter Rutherford)