OSAKA, Japan: South American champions River Plate survived a scare to beat Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 on Wednesday and reach the finals of the Club World Cup.
Striker Lucas Alario’s headed goal after 72 minutes spared Argentine blushes in Osaka and sent River’s travelling army of fans into raptures after several close shaves at the other end.
River will face either Barcelona or China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in Sunday’s final in Yokohama.
“We felt huge responsibility as favourites but we overcame our anxiety by showing intelligence and patience,” River coach Marcelo Gallardo told reporters. “We struggled a little in the first half and could have been punished but we’re in the final now.”
The Libertadores Cup holders were indebted to goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero, who produced a string of superb saves to keep out Hiroshima, the surprise 3-0 winners over Congolese side Mazembe at the weekend.
Barovero sprinted from his line to deny Yusuke Mina¬gawa in the 26th minute before acrobatically tipping over a stinging drive from Yusuke Chajima.
Rodrigo Mora blazed wastefully over at the start of the second half. But Alario settled River’s nerves when he nodded in from close range after Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi flapped at a free kick from Tabare Viudez.
“We didn’t play as well as we expected but you have to adapt to difficult situations,” added Gallardo. “It was a tough match, as we expected, and our goalkeeper came up with some crucial saves.
“At half-time I told the players to be calm and be smart in order to take their chances, and they did just that.”
Barca, hot favourites to win a record third Club World Cup, take on Asian champions Evergrande on Thursday.
Hiroshima manager Ha¬jime Moriyasu paid tribute to River.
“We have to accept the result but I think we had the best chances until they scored,” he said. “River Plate were the strongest team we’ve ever played against, both in terms of history and talent. Everything went to plan — until they scored.”
River, who won the old Intercontinental Cup in 1986, are bidding to win their first world title since the tournament was revamped in 2000.
Earlier, Mexico’s Club America beat Congolese side Mazembe 2-1 in the fifth-place playoff in Osaka.