Palmeiras reached their first Copa Libertadores final since 2000 after edging River Plate despite a thrilling second-leg loss on Tuesday.

First-half goals from Robert Rojas and Rafael Santos Borre had River on track to sensationally overturn a 3-0 deficit in the semi-finals in Sao Paulo.

Champions in 2018, River had a goal ruled out early in the second half and a penalty call overturned after Rojas' red card, Palmeiras holding on for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

River found their way back into the tie before half-time.

Rojas produced a brilliant header from a Nicolas De La Cruz corner before Borre nodded in a Matias Suarez cross in the 44th minute.

River thought they had levelled the tie in the 52nd minute, but Gonzalo Montiel's volley was ruled out for offside following a VAR check.

There was more drama to follow.

Rojas was sent off in the 73rd minute after being shown a second yellow card.

But River were awarded a penalty just two minutes later for a challenge by Alan Empereur on Suarez, only for the decision to be overturned following a VAR check.

There was another check for a penalty for River in the 100th minute, but Palmeiras held on to move into the final against either Santos or Boca Juniors.

Palmeiras closed in on their first Copa Libertadores final appearance since 2000 after a stunning 3-0 win over River Plate on Tuesday.

The Brazilian outfit produced an emphatic display in the first leg of the semi-final in Argentina.

Rony opened the scoring and Luiz Adriano doubled the lead early in the second half, with Matias Vina sealing the win after Jorge Carrascal was sent off for River.

River, finalists in the previous two editions of the Libertadores, fell behind in the 27th minute after a huge error.

Franco Armani dealt poorly with a cross, his clearance with his feet falling to Rony, whose volley beat the River goalkeeper via a slight deflection.

Palmeiras – who had another effort ruled out for offside in the first half – doubled their lead shortly after the break.

Luiz Adriano easily turned Robert Rojas after a pass from Danilo before producing a fine composed finish past Armani.

Making matters worse for River, Carrascal was sent off for a rash challenge on Gabriel Menino on the hour-mark.

And the hosts were punished almost immediately, Vina heading in a Gustavo Scarpa set-piece to make it 3-0.

Palmeiras went close to adding a fourth late on, but River have a huge mountain to climb in the second leg in Sao Paulo on January 12.

Juventus' elimination from the Champions League spelled the end for Maurizio Sarri and the start of a new era under Andrea Pirlo.

Despite leading the Bianconeri to a ninth straight Scudetto in 2019-20, Sarri was fired after Juve crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage to Lyon on Friday.

Pirlo was at the heart of Juve's brilliant midfield during the start of their Serie A dominance, winning four Scudetti, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana twice during a four-year stint that ended when he moved to New York City in 2015.

A week after returning to Juve as their Under-23 boss, Pirlo was handed the reins of the first team ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

He is not the first club legend to go back and manage a team they played for, though, and we have taken a look at the biggest successes and failures.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping away in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Pirlo will have to get the better of his former coach Conte, now at Inter, if he is to maintain the Bianconeri's run of titles.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try and save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

Squad line-ups for the next Copa America could look vastly different by the time the tournament comes around following its postponement.

The newest edition of the competition was scheduled to start on Friday, but the coronavirus pandemic saw it pushed back by 12 months in March.

Some veteran players might now fade from the picture before the Copa America gets under way next year, while other stars will have time to recover from injury.

There could also be new faces on the scene, with a host of uncapped prospects given an extra campaign to break through.

With just under a year to go until the tournament starts, we take a look at five players who might emerge on the international scene before then.

GABRIEL MARTINELLI (BRAZIL)

Even beyond Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and co, Brazil have a wealth of attacking talent.

Matheus Cunha and Paulinho each starred at this year's CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament and are already plying their trade in the Bundesliga, yet the nation's most outstanding prospect might reside in London.

Gabriel Martinelli is eligible for both Brazil and Italy, but the Selecao will surely move swiftly to cap-tie the forward, who has represented them at under-23 level. Indeed, he is one of just three teenagers to have reached 10 goals in all competitions across Europe's top five leagues this term, the other two being Erling Haaland (13 for Borussia Dortmund) and Mason Greenwood (12 for Manchester United).

Martinelli trained with Brazil last year aged 17 after starring for Ituano, and he has continued to impress in his first season at Arsenal – his solo goal against Chelsea in January a fine example of his talents, as he carried the ball 61.6 metres before scoring. Only Son Heung-min (71.4m) has travelled further with the ball in the build-up to netting in the Premier League this term.

 

Further progress in the coming weeks and next season would really give Tite something to think about.

 

CRISTIAN ROMERO (ARGENTINA)

Argentina have long had problems at centre-back, with Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi still a regular at international level. However, head coach Lionel Scaloni could soon have greater options to choose from, with younger talents now breaking through.

Nehuen Perez might well have gone to the 2020 Copa America, having been called up for the first time late last year after promising loan spells away from Atletico Madrid, while Borussia Dortmund's Leonardo Balerdi is also highly regarded.

But there's every chance Cristian Romero will leap ahead of both in the pecking order given his greater exposure to first-team football at a higher level, having earned a €26million move from Genoa to Juventus at the start of the season, before being loaned back.

It's not proven to be a straightforward season for Genoa, however. Although their form picked up before before the suspension, they will resume their season later this month just above the relegation zone.

Romero has played 21 of their 27 Serie A games - more than any of his defensive colleagues - and made 51 interceptions, a figure bettered by only Armando Izzo (58) among defenders in Italy's top flight.

Eight defenders have attempted more than his 40 tackles, but none of those above him have succeeded as often as him (68 per cent success). A difficult year it may have been, and reports suggest Juve could even sell him on again, but he has done relatively well despite the circumstances.

 

DIEGO ROSSI (URUGUAY)

Uruguay continue to rely on a number of their veterans of previous tournaments, but this will have to change in the coming months and years - especially in attack.

Although Luis Suarez remains a potent weapon, Edinson Cavani has shown signs of decline in the past year, while Cristhian Stuani is now playing in Spain's second tier. All three will be 34 years old by the time the tournament starts.

Diego Rossi should back himself to be in position to put pressure on that star trio. He left Penarol for Los Angeles FC aged 19 and has proven an instant hit in MLS, having a hand in 41 goals (12 assists, 29 goals) in 68 regular-season appearances – only three players have contributed more.

His ability to play effectively alongside another forward could also help his chances of breaking into the team – Rossi and Carlos Vela have created 84 chances for each other, the second-highest such figure in MLS since 2018, while in the same timeframe only Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez (18) have set up more goals for each other than the LAFC pair (16).

LAFC general manager John Thorrington has spoken of "significant interest" in Rossi from Europe, and such a move would give the forward a great chance of making the grade for Uruguay.

JORGE CARRASCAL (COLOMBIA)

Versatile River Plate attacking midfielder Jorge Carrascal will get fans off their seats if he manages to secure a place in the Colombia squad alongside club-mate Juan Quintero.

A tricky player, comfortable out wide or behind a striker, Carrascal debuted for Millonarios at just 16. He initially struggled after joining River Plate on loan from Ukraine's Karpaty Lviv last year, but he has shown glimpses of immense promise and been capped by Colombia's Under-23s.

Representing his country at youth level for the first time since 2015, the 22-year-old scored in each of his first three games at the Pre-Olympic Tournament and started all seven matches.

For River, the former Sevilla youngster - whose time in Spain was curtailed by injuries - has scored four goals and set up another in 17 matches across all competitions.

Running at defenders is his best quality, however. A flamboyant player, Carrascal has averaged 4.9 successful take-ons per 90 minutes in the Superliga this term, succeeding 53 per cent of the time. Only one under-23 player tries his luck more often in this regard - he certainly likes to entertain.

Who knows, a few successive starts could be all that stands in Carrascal's way before an international call-up - then his future will surely lead him back for another crack at Europe.


REINIER (BRAZIL)

It might seem a long shot for a player who has yet to feature for Real Madrid's first team and started only twice at the Pre-Olympic Tournament to be playing for Brazil's senior side in just over a year's time.

But Reinier will have the benefit of 12 months in the limelight at one of the world's biggest clubs. After signing from Flamengo for €30m, Reinier netted a brace in just his third Castilla appearance - his final match before the coronavirus crisis intervened.

The pre-season will be key if the 18-year-old is to get a chance at Madrid in 2020-21, and there is no reason why he could not then do enough to catch Tite's eye.

During his brief time in professional football back in Brazil, Reinier made 14 Brasileiro appearances and had a hand in eight goals (six assists, two goals), one every 118 minutes on average.

By comparison, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo were significantly less effective - they played a role in a goal every 239 minutes and 341 minutes, respectively, when they were in Brazil, yet both have enjoyed largely promising starts in Madrid.

Vinicius made the big-money move from Flamengo to Madrid in 2018 and had debuted for Brazil within 12 months of his LaLiga bow. The path is clear.

Gonzalo Higuain is not sure if he will leave Juventus for River Plate, though the striker would like to retire at his boyhood club.

Higuain has been linked with a move away from Serie A champions Juve – a return to Argentine powerhouse River on the cards.

The 32-year-old – also the subject of reported interest from MLS clubs LA Galaxy and DC United – emerged from River's youth system in 2005 before leaving for LaLiga giants Real Madrid two years later.

Higuain addressed his future and talk of a River reunion, telling TyC Sports: "River are a club that gave me everything, from letting me develop to Real Madrid buying me, but right now I don't know what's going to happen. My head is here [in Turin].

"[Marcelo] Gallardo's team are very exciting, they have quality, strength, everything...

"The truth that you watch them and their number nine gets many chances. Clearly someone who played for River before will watch that team, see themselves there and say, 'how nice'.

"Gallardo has caught everyone's eyes and he's earned it. I'd think about going back to River to retire."

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic suspending the Serie A season in March, Higuain had scored five goals in 23 appearances.

In total, Higuain had netted eight goals across all competitions for Maurizio Sarri's Juve in 2019-20.

El Flaco, the silky, slender Uruguayan born Enzo Francescoli Uriarte, was an elite playmaker of maybe understated class. In a glorious period for Uruguayan football, El Flaco played 73 times for his country between 1982 and 1997, nobody has played more. El Flaco made two appearances at the FIFA World Cup in 1986 and 1990 and won three Copa America titles. He would enjoy stints in his home country with Wanderers before globe trotting to feature in the Serie A, in France’s Ligue 1 and in the Argentine first division. So impressive a career did El Flaco have, that he is the only Uruguayan to make Pele’s list of the world’s 100 greatest living footballers.

Playing Career

Full name: Enzo Francescoli Uriarte

Date of birth: 12 November 1961 (age 58)

Place of birth: Montevideo, Uruguay

Height: 5 ft 11 1⁄4 in (1.81 m)

Playing position: Attacking midfielder

Club Career

           Years                         Team                    Apps   (Gls)

  • 1980–1982          Wanderers                     74         (20)
  • 1983–1986          River Plate                     113        (68)
  • 1986–1989          RC Paris                        89          (32)
  • 1989–1990          Olympique Marseille       28          (11)
  • 1990–1993          Cagliari                         98         (17)
  • 1993–1994          Torino                          24           (3)
  • 1994–1997          River Plate                    84          (47)

           Total                                                     510     (198)

 

Club Honours

  • River Plate - Primera División (5): 1985–86, 1994 Apertura, 1996 Apertura, 1997 Clausura, 1997 Apertura; Copa Libertadores (1): 1996; Supercopa Sudamericana (1): 1997

 

  • Marseille - French Division 1 (1): 1989–90

International Career

  • 1982–1997 Uruguay 73 (17)

International Honours

  • South American Youth Football Championship (1): 1981
  • Copa América (3): 1983, 1987, 1995

Individual Honours

  • Copa América player of the tournament (2): 1983, 1995
  • South American Footballer of the Year (2): 1984, 1995
  • Argentine Primera División top scorers (3): 1984 Metropolitano, 1985–86, 1994 Apertura
  • Player of the Year of Argentina (2): 1985, 1995
  • France Foreign Player of the Year (1): 1990
  • South American Team of the Year (4): 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
  • FIFA 100
  • World Soccer: The 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time
  • Cagliari Hall of Fame
  • Cagliari Greatest All-time Starting XI

Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia said the remainder of the season will be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Boca Juniors claimed the Primera Division title on the final day of the campaign in March, but the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted competitions across Argentina.

With Argentine football on hiatus since last month, Tapia declared the season over on Monday, with no relegation for two campaigns due to the disruptions.

"We are ending the tournaments," Tapia told TNT Sports, with the AFA to officially ratify the decision on Tuesday. "The idea is to restart play but when authorities allow it and with maximum security."

Relegation is calculated by points per game taken over a three-year period. Promotion, however, will continue but Tapia did not clarify from which divisions.

Diego Maradona's Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata were among the bottom three clubs in the relegation standings, though they are set to remain in the top division.

Meanwhile, the 24-team Copa Superliga tournament – scheduled to finish next month – has been scrapped.

"We are respectful of the measures that the government takes and we must comply with them," Tapia added. "When football stopped playing, it was not by decision of the Argentine soccer leaders, but by a decision of the Minister of Health.

"Human beings come first. If we take a hasty decision and a contagion occurs, we would go back to March 10 or 11 and it would be a piece of paper. We all want football to return, but we will have to wait. Life first."

There have been more than 190 deaths in Argentina and over 3,890 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Globally, there have been at least 211,200 casualties, while COVID-19 cases have exceeded three million.

 

Squads for the upcoming Copa America could look vastly different by the time the tournament comes around following its postponement.

The latest edition of the competition was scheduled to start in June, but the coronavirus pandemic has seen it pushed back 12 months.

Some veteran players might now fade from the picture before the Copa America gets under way next year, while other stars will have time to recover from injury.

There could also be some new faces on the scene, with a host of uncapped prospects given an extra campaign to break through.

We take a look at five players who might emerge between now and the tournament.

 

GABRIEL MARTINELLI (BRAZIL)

Even beyond Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and co., Brazil have a wealth of attacking talent.

Matheus Cunha and Paulinho each starred at this year's CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament and are already plying their trade in the Bundesliga, yet the nation's most outstanding prospect might reside in London.

Gabriel Martinelli is eligible for both Brazil and Italy, but the Selecao will surely move swiftly to cap-tie the striker.

Martinelli trained with Brazil last year aged 17 after starring for Ituano, and he has continued to impress in his first season at Arsenal, scoring 10 goals in all competitions.

Further progress in the coming season would give Tite something to think about.

 

CRISTIAN ROMERO (ARGENTINA)

Argentina have long had problems at centre-back, with Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi still a regular at international level.

However, head coach Lionel Scaloni could soon have greater options to choose from, with younger talents now breaking through.

Nehuen Perez might well have gone to the 2020 Copa America, having been called up for the first time late last year after promising loan spells away from Atletico Madrid, but he could soon find himself nudged back down the pecking order.

Cristian Romero appears well-placed to establish himself, having earned a €26million move from Genoa to Juventus at the start of the season, although he returned on loan to his former club, who are enduring a testing campaign.

With Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci ageing, Romero should get opportunities with Juve next term - and Argentina could soon come calling.

 

DIEGO ROSSI (URUGUAY)

Uruguay continue to rely on a number of their veterans of previous tournaments, but this will have to change in the coming months and years - especially in attack.

Luis Suarez faced a race to be fit for the 2020 edition, while Edinson Cavani's club future is in doubt as his Paris Saint-Germain contract expires. Even Cristhian Stuani is now playing in Spain's second tier. All three are 33 years old.

And Diego Rossi should back himself to be in position to put pressure on that star trio in 12 months' time.

Rossi left Penarol for Los Angeles FC aged 19 and has proven an instant hit in MLS, scoring 29 goals in 68 regular-season appearances, helping his club win the 2019 Supporters' Shield.

LAFC general manager John Thorrington has spoken of "significant interest" in Rossi from Europe, and such a move would give the forward a great chance of making the grade for Uruguay.

 

JORGE CARRASCAL (COLOMBIA)

Rossi's LAFC team-mates Eddie Segura and Eduard Atuesta both appear set for first Colombia caps, but Jorge Carrascal might now have nudged to the front of that queue.

A tricky winger who debuted for Millonarios at just 16, Carrascal initially struggled after joining River Plate on loan from Ukraine's Karpaty Lviv last year.

However, Carrascal improved as the season went on, earning a permanent switch to River - and, crucially, a call-up to the Colombia Under-23s.

Representing his country at youth level for the first time since 2015, the 21-year-old scored in each of his first three games at the Pre-Olympic Tournament and started all seven matches.

A return to the River Plate XI this year could see Carrascal earn a senior Colombia call-up.


REINIER (BRAZIL)

It might seem a long shot for a player who has yet to feature for Real Madrid's first team and started only twice at the Pre-Olympic Tournament to be playing for Brazil's senior side in just over a year's time.

But Reinier will have the benefit of 12 months in the limelight at one of the world's biggest clubs.

After signing from Flamengo for €30m, Reinier netted a brace in just his third Castilla appearance - his final match before the coronavirus crisis intervened.

The pre-season will be key if the 18-year-old is to get a chance at Madrid in 2020-21, and there is no reason why he could not then do enough to catch Tite's eye.

Vinicius Junior made a big-money move from Flamengo to Madrid in 2018 and had debuted for Brazil within 12 months of his LaLiga bow. The path is clear.

The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the sporting calendar on Saturday with more major events and competitions being disrupted.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the globe, it has resulted in the postponement of competitions worldwide as governments attempt to combat the pandemic.

A small number of events still went ahead, but sports stars, teams and indeed supporters were otherwise left to find other means of entertainment.

With the number of confirmed cases worldwide now totalling over 155,000, we round up all the latest news and updates.

 

Germany's prestige friendly with Italy later this month became the latest football fixture to bite the dust, with the majority of upcoming international matches having now been wiped out.

More major organisations have halted all footballing activities until a later date, including Qatar, Morocco and Egypt.

A small number of competitions, most notably the A-League, Russian Premier League and Mexico's Liga MX, did manage to go ahead as planned.

Indeed, NRL games also avoided the cut, as did a handful of Super Rugby matches before an indefinite ban was put in place later in the day.

Another competition to fall was Australia's one-day international series against New Zealand, which was already being played behind closed doors.

With New Zealand's government introducing strict protocols to attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the Black Caps – along with Super Rugby side Highlanders – returned home from Australia and Argentina respectively in order to beat the new restrictions, which will mean any new arrival to the country, even if they are a citizen, has to self-isolate for 14 days.

With the top-four tiers of English football being shelved until at least early April, there was plenty of focus on the National League as six games were given the green light.

There was some controversy in Argentina as River Plate's Copa Superliga clash with Atletico Tucuman was suspended after the home side refused to open their stadium.

Independiente's tie with Velez Sarsfield was played out in full, albeit behind closed doors, with the hosts claiming a 1-0 victory.

In Italy, Napoli urged their supporters to sing from their balconies in unison as Fiorentina's Patrick Cutrone and two more Sampdoria players tested positive for COVID-19.

Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy revealed a negative test result after recently self-isolating, but Carlo Ancelotti and Angelo Ogbonna questioned the Premier League's handling of the outbreak, while Jordan Pickford denied reports he is self-isolating.

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, meanwhile, claimed the competition should be "void" – a suggestion Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher quickly dismissed.

The lack of football did not stop certain clubs from keeping supporters entertained, though, with LaLiga side Leganes posting live updates of a fictitious match against Real Valladolid, which they won 2-1.

Perhaps inspired by their Spanish counterparts, Southampton got Manchester City involved in an online game of noughts and crosses to help fill the void.

The downtime also gave football stars a chance to recuperate, with Sergio Ramos and Alexis Sanchez among those to post images of their extra-curricular activities.

Others, such as Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, opted to use social media to educate their followers on how to properly wash their hands, while Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi used his profile to echo the sentiments of Cristiano Ronaldo in calling for people to follow the guidance of health organisations.

As Ronaldo and Jurgen Klopp were praised by the World Health Organisation for "protecting people from coronavirus", former United States president Barack Obama hailed a host of NBA stars – including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson – for donating large amounts to help support arena staff during the league's hiatus.

UFC superstar Conor McGregor labelled the pandemic "a stupid f****** virus", but later moved to clarify his aunt did not die after contracting the disease after previously suggesting as such.

And in more positive news, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe revealed his country still plan for the 2020 Olympic Games to go ahead in Tokyo, starting in late July.

The International Olympic Committee will have the final say, but ABE is confident the Games will be staged "without problem".

River Plate's Copa Superliga clash with Atletico Tucuman was called off on Saturday after the home side refused to open their stadium.

Despite sporting events across the globe having been cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic football in Argentina has remained largely unaffected.

Friday's fixtures between Gimnasia La Plata and Banfield, and Patronato and San Lorenzo went ahead as planned, with Independiente's home match against Velez Sarsfield also proceeding on Saturday, though it was played behind closed doors.

However, River insisted on Friday that, due to safety concerns over the spread of COVID-19, they would not be fulfilling their fixture against Tucuman, a decision which was backed by Gimnasia coach – and Boca Juniors icon – Diego Maradona.

"I'm with them to the death. Look, I don't like the Gallinas ['Chickens', a nickname used by Boca fans to mock River] at all, but I'm with them to the death," Maradona told reporters.

"If the players make a decision, you've got to stick with that to the death. To the death."

And when Tucuman staff, along with referee German Delfino, arrived at El Monumental on Saturday, they were unable to enter the stadium.

Tucuman's official Twitter account posted images of its staff outside the stadium, while they also shared photos of the squad waiting in the team hotel.

The match was subsequently called off, with a Superliga statement confirming the decision.

The statement read: "In light of River Plate's decision to not open their stadium for the encounter that was due to be played for the first round of the Copa Superliga against Atletico Tucuman, referee German Delfino went to the Monumental facilities alongside the rest of the officiating team and national public notary Marisa Galarza, and noted it was impossible to enter the stadium to carry out their jobs.

"Alongside them, the Tucuman side's kitmen, first vice-president Enrique Salvatierra and spokesman Cristobal Godoy were also present.

"At that time a document was signed notifying the situation and the visiting team was informed there was no need to make their way to the event venue, as the match referee had made note of the general situation.

"The Buenos Aires City Security authorities also advised the Tucuman delegation it was not necessary to go to the stadium, as the facilities were closed."

It is unclear at this stage what consequences River will face, though they could reportedly lose the match as a walkover.

Carlos Tevez helped Boca Juniors clinch the Argentinian Primera Division title with a 1-0 win over Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata on Saturday.

Tevez's 20-yard strike in the 72nd minute at La Bombonera lifted Boca to their narrow victory over Diego Maradona's Gimnasia.

It meant Boca finished top of the table by a point after bitter rivals River Plate were held to a 1-1 draw at Atletico Tucuman.

Boca's title was their 34th, drawing them closer to River's all-time record of 36.

Tevez's goal was his ninth in 17 league games this season, with Gimnasia goalkeeper Jorge Broun unable to keep out the powerful effort.

River, meanwhile, had come from behind at Atletico Tucuman through Matias Suarez, but were unable to find a winner.

They were held to draws in their final two league games of the season.

Dani Osvaldo played his first match in four years as the former Inter and Roma striker came out of retirement for Argentine side Banfield.

Ex-Italy international Osvaldo last played for powerhouse Boca Juniors before quitting football in 2016 to pursue his passion for music.

Osvaldo, however, traded his guitar for football boots in January and the 34-year-old made his stunning return on Sunday.

The veteran – who was released by Boca for reportedly smoking a cigarette in the dressing room – came off the bench with 16 minutes remaining as visiting Banfield lost 1-0 to River Plate in Buenos Aires, where he was whistled and jeered.

Osvaldo almost capped his remarkable comeback with a goal – an audacious long-range chip leaving River goalkeeper Franco Armani scrambling as the ball sailed just over the crossbar.

"I am very happy, in Banfield they treat me very well and make me feel important," Osvaldo said post-match.

"Physically I felt good. I really wanted to play again, I'm happy for that."

Banfield are 16th in the 24-team Superliga, nine points outside of the Copa Libertadores places and 17 adrift of leaders River.

River Plate have retained their 2018 Copa Libertadores title after arch-rivals Boca Juniors' appeal to have them disqualified was turned down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

River claimed the title by defeating Boca 5-3 on aggregate after extra time in the second leg of the final in December 2018.

That match was played at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid after Boca's team bus was attacked en route to El Monumental for the initially scheduled return encounter.

After being shut down by South American confederation CONMEBOL, Boca appealed to CAS in an attempt to have River disqualified from the 2018 Libertadores over the behaviour of their supporters.

However, CAS declared that punishment would have been too harsh and instead ordered Marcelo Gallardo's team to play their next two Libertadores home games behind closed doors.

A statement read: "The CAS panel found that while River Plate had violated the CONMEBOL disciplinary regulations it could not order the disqualification of River Plate from the 2018 Copa Libertadores since such sanction would have been excessive in the circumstances of the case.

"The panel considered that the appropriate sanction to be imposed on River Plate for the bus attack was two matches behind closed doors, to be applied to River Plate's next two home matches in the Copa Libertadores."

Boca Juniors have failed in a bid to delay the resumption of the Superliga season, after claiming a clash with players' international commitments left them at a disadvantage.

The next full round of Superliga games is billed for January 24-26, ending a six-week mid-season break, but Argentina Under-23 players will be engaged in qualifying for the Olympic Games.

Argentina play Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela between January 18 and January 30, looking to advance to the next stage in February and close on one of two CONMEBOL places at Tokyo 2020.

Boca had just two players named in the squad last month - Nicolas Capaldo and Alexis Mac Allister - yet they led protests against the Superliga schedule.

The club released a statement on Thursday, which read: "The new leadership of the club considers that restarting the championship as planned means a sporting disadvantage for our institution, due to the players that we have contributed to the national team, and we ask for the corresponding postponement.

"If there is something that characterises Boca throughout its history, it is the commitment to the national teams in all its representations.

"And the only thing we want is to continue with that commitment [while] taking care of the interests of our club, which is the task entrusted to us by the members in the elections of December 8, 2019.

"For this reason, through a letter to the Superliga authorities signed by president Jorge Amor Ameal, Boca requests the postponement of the start of the tournament in question, as well as a meeting to discuss economic aspects."

However, the Superliga announced on its website that the 17th round of games would go ahead as planned, after "general consensus" was reached at an executive committee meeting.

Argentinian sports newspaper Ole reported the results of a poll among the 24 Superliga clubs.

It said that with 16 votes required to make the alteration, just 15 were in favour, with Boca's rivals River Plate reportedly among the nine against the motion.

Boca, who sit in second place, behind Argentinios Juniors, are due to play Independiente on January 26.

One story is dominating the sporting agenda in Spain on Saturday: Xavi's potential return to Barcelona.

The Catalan giants have reportedly earmarked the club great to take over from the under-pressure Ernesto Valverde at the end of the season, and held informal discussions with him on Friday in Doha.

Xavi, 39, is currently coach at Al Sadd but would likely relish a return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during a glittering playing career.

A strong affinity with a club is not a guarantee of success, however, and we have taken a look at eight other examples of players returning to manage teams they starred for.

 

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping away in May 2018, only to return 10 months later.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job. He is now back in Serie A and thriving with the Old Lady's bitter rivals Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Like Lampard, Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try and save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for AC Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league finish in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

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