River Plate's Club World Cup exit the latest low point for declining South American football

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Ever since the current format of the FIFA Club World Cup was introduced in 2005, the semifinal stage has been an exercise in torture for South American champions.

First, there is almost too much at stake. The most powerful force in the competition is the desire of the Libertadores winners to have a crack at the European champions. As recently as two decades ago, this was an entirely fair fight. The sad truth, from the South American perspective, is that these days their representative is no longer vastly superior to the champions of the less traditional continents. And so the semifinal has become an increasingly tricky obstacle for the South American sides to navigate. There have been a series of hard-fought, narrow victories, and, now, four defeats after Argentina's River Plate fell on penalties to local side Al-Ain in the United Arab nike jerseys cheap china

And River were even helped by the fact that Al-Ain were slow out of the blocks. In Saturday's quarterfinal against African champions Esperance Sportive de Tunis, Al-Ain took the lead from a corner from the right after just one minute and nineteen seconds. This time they were forced to wait an until the third minute to get themselves in front in a similar manner.3

Midfielder Ahmed Barman curled in the corner left footed, striker Marcos Berg jostled at the near post with centre-back Javier Pinola, the ball went through the legs of goalkeeper Franco Armani and crossed the line. The goal was awarded to Berg, though the final touch may well have come off Pinola. It all added up to the same thing -- River Plate had to chase the game.

By the 16-minute mark they had done it so well that they had taken the lead -- with plenty of credit to their coach Marcelo Gallardo. A top player in his day, Gallardo is only 42, but has been in charge of River for four years -- a marathon spell by contemporary South American standards. He has developed hugely in that time, mastering a wide range of tactical nfl jerseys china nike

Today's was all about MLS-bound support striker Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez. In the first game of the Libertadores final he was used in a central role behind the strikers, before reverting back to his usual position wide on the left for the second leg . For this game he was employed wide on the right, where he found space to pick apart the Al-Ain defense.

His partner in crime was Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borre, returning after missing out on the second leg of the Libertadores final through suspension. Gallardo has used him especially well in recent months. Santos Borre's mobility and capacity to run behind the defensive line have made him the first name on the attacking team sheet. Twice Martinez set up the moves, twice Santos Borre rounded them off, and after going down 1-0, River led 2-1.

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