River Plate must face Independiente Santa Fe, from Colombia, in the Copa Libertadores on Wednesday. And it doesn’t have enough footballers to compose a team of eleven. It also does not have a doorman. A massive contagion of covid has forced them to isolate 20 of their players, including the four goalkeepers of the squad. If Conmebol, organizer of the tournament, does not make an exception in the regulations at the last minute (and does not seem willing to do so), River will be able to line up only ten field players, with a couple of youth players and without substitutes. It remains unknown who would get under the sticks.
Last year Conmebol offered the possibility of registering 50 players per team in Libertadores to prevent situations like this. But Marcelo Gallardo, River Plate coach, ruled out the option. “I work with a professional group of no more than 30 players,” he said at the time, “and I’m not going to give the juniors a false illusion. If there is a massive contagion it is because we do not have to play, it will be because the pandemic does not allow us to compete in normal conditions, “said the coach last September. The regulations establish that “in the event of serious injury” a goalkeeper may be added to the roster at any time during the competition. Conmebol, however, does not consider in its regulations that COVID infections constitute a serious injury.
River, a four-time champion of the continental competition, cannot afford not to play. With a minimum of seven footballers available, he is obliged to do so. Otherwise, in addition to being a 3-0 loser, they would be fined and banned from participating in the Copa Libertadores for several seasons.
The club with the red stripe already had to face a derby last Sunday against its great rival, Boca Juniors, with a team of circumstances. He had 15 players with covid and he lined up a youth goalkeeper, Alan Leonardo Díaz, 21, who had never worked with the first team, not even as a substitute. Diaz, without a professional contract, gave a formidable performance. The match ended 1-1 (Boca’s goal was preceded by a clear foul) and the bosteros from the old mouth of the port they finally prevailed in the penalty shootout. River tried on Monday, without success, to get Conmebol to admit the urgent registration of the young goalkeeper Díaz to participate in the Copa Libertadores. “River was given the chance to register 50 players and they chose to put 32,” insisted the South American Football Confederation. The four goalkeepers registered by River, Franco Armani, Germán Lux, Enrique Bologna and Franco Petroli, have coronavirus and Díaz does not appear on the list.
Who will put on the gloves against Independiente Santa Fe? Gallardo thought of midfielder Enzo Pérez, injured but without covid. Doctors decided early Tuesday that his problem with his right hamstrings (muscles in the back of his thigh) was still too severe to line up, even in goal. Perez ruled out, there would be the option of another injured, the central Javier Pinola. The fact is that Pinola fractured his forearm in March and has not yet recovered. Using him would be almost like having a one-armed goalkeeper, as well as inexperienced.
Nobody knows how the bubble that supposedly protects professional footballers burst. The contagion was massive and fast. Most likely, the first infection occurred during the trip to Colombia for the first leg last week. River had 15 patients on Sunday and on Monday night there were already 20, to which were added several members of the coaching staff, including the goalkeeping coach and the masseur.
“We go to the front with what we have,” said the club’s board. “River must appear because it was signed,” declared the president, Rodolfo D’Onofrio, “but all this is unusual, ridiculous.”