Tigres manager Tuca Ferretti spent much of the buildup to this Copa Libertadores final second leg shoveling pressure onto River Plate. He highlighted the burden created by River's history and noted how the Argentine giants entered this decisive encounter at Estadio Monumental with the duty to deliver after the 0-0 draw in Nuevo Leon a week ago. Ferretti hoped to unsettle the tattered opposition with his remarks, but he instead watched in vain as River produced a gritty performance to secure a 3-0 victory in this compelling conclusion to the tournament.
River entered this two-legged final as slight underdogs, but they exited it as South American champions for the third time after defending their soil with application and determination. Lucas Alario provided the initial foothold by ducking to head home Leonel Vangioni's inviting cross on the stroke of halftime. Carlos Sanchez punished Javier Aquino for his sloppiness inside the defensive third by winning and then slotting home a penalty after 75 minutes. Ramiro Funes Mori guaranteed River's first triumph in this competition since 1996 with his header four minutes later.
The margin of victory proved surprising in the end after the two sides played to three draws in three previous meetings, but it resulted from River's ability to stymie Tigres on the break and then summon the necessary quality to settle matters. Tigres lacked the inventiveness to muddle through this rugged occasion and suffered the consequences after Aquino spurned a chance to equalize and then trundled Sanchez to the ground in quick succession to give away the second goal.
Tigres' failure here means the Mexican drought in this competition, but River's triumph proves the more compelling tale. The Argentine giants entered this final with a host of selection issues and the hopes of expectant supporters firmly upon them, but they rose to the occasion to lift the title once more on this rainy night in Buenos Aires.
The weight of the occasion infused the early stages with commitment and vigor. Both sides focused on closing space earnestly and halting progress by any means necessary. The procession of robust challenges left the two sides to dig into the affair and search for those rare moments to break free and construct opportunities.
Most of the lifting in that department fell on the visitors as River expended most of their energy to retain their shape. Rafael Sobis nearly snuck through after high pressure inside the opening 15 minutes, while a scuffed finish ruined a sweeping ove up the right shortly before the half-hour. Sobis -- willing to drift off André-Pierre Gignac to link the play in midfield -- then slashed high as Tigres attempted to find a firm foothold in hostile territory.
River found it more difficult to pose a threat with top scorer Rodolfo Mora and the inventive Tabare Viudez ruled out through injury. Fernando Cavenaghi starved for service up front, though Nicolas Bertolo tried his best to create a supply line from his berth on the left. The odd flicker to life underscored River's burden to translate possession into menace, but Tigres' swarming work inside their own half limited the latitude afforded.
There were few signs of an opener during the tight first half, but River produced the best move of the tie to date to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime.
Vangioni managed to create a yard of space by pushing the ball around his marker and then racing onto it. The left back lifted his head and swung a low cross toward the penalty spot. Alario separated from his marker and stooped to turn his header inside the near post to spark wild celebrations inside Estadio Monumental.
Alario's tidy finish tipped the scales in favor of the home side after the break and urged Tigres to commit numbers forward in search of the equalizer. The calculus adjusted to allow River to sit back and soak up pressure for most of the second half in a bid to hold out.
Tigres responded by slowly, but surely, ramping up the pressure as the match continued. Gignac fired over the bar 10 minutes after play resumed to signal the Mexican's side intent, but the glaring chance arrived after 68 minutes. Damm -- for one of the few times all night -- relied on his pace to carry him to the endline. The resulting clip drifted toward Aquino at the back post, but the former Villarreal winger nodded over when he should have turned on frame.
The miss proved just the start of a horrific few minutes for Aquino. His poor touch inside his own defensive third allowed Sanchez to wriggle free and slice into the penalty area. Aquino compounded the error with a desperate lunge to haul Sanchez down and concede a penalty. Sanchez grabbed the ball for himself and then smashed into the upper right corner to essentially settle matters. His emphatic, emotional response -- ripping off his shirt and gesticulating in the corner -- served as a release of all of the tension in the buildup.
Funes Mori erased any and all remaining doubt in the final quarter of an hour. The center back ghosted free on a corner kick and nodded second-half substitute Leonardo Pisculichi's inviting service through Nahuel Guzman's legs to confirm River's superiority on the night and in the tie.
At that point, the focus turned to revelry as the River supporters serenaded their champions as the rain poured down and the final moments ticked away. There would be no dampening of their spirits on this night. For the first time in nearly two decades, they were back on top of South American football once more.