River Plate confirmed their status in the knockout rounds of this year’s Copa Libertadores last night, after a 1-1 draw with Ecuador’s Emelec gave them a comfortable lead at the top of group 3.

Marcelo Gallardo’s side came into the match off the back of a 4-1 victory in Guayaquil last week, meaning only a point was required last night for them to to confirm their place in the last sixteen stage of the competition.

Read more: Copa Libertadores run down – which teams can advance to the knockouts?

As such, and with one eye fixed firmly on this Sunday’s Superclasico clash against arch rivals Boca Juniors, Gallardo fielded a relatively unproven eleven in what turned out to be a fairly passive affair.

Emelec broke the deadlock on 60′ when Eduar Preciado jumped on a defensive mix-up to roll the ball into the net. Eight minutes later, River were awarded a rather dubious penalty, which was duly converted by talisman Rodrigo Mora, and that is how the score remained.

The result means River go through to the knockout stages with two games to spare, versus Melgar and Independiente de Medellin later this month.

With regards to their all important clash this Sunday – which will no doubt be River’s last real chance to challenge first-placed Boca for the league title – coach Marcelo Gallardo did little to hide his optimism:

“Sunday’s game is crucial to see whether we can cut the gap and fight until the end”, he said during the post-match press conference.

“It’s good to win and that’s what we’re going to try and do at Boca”, he continued.

With regards to the nature of the match, Gallardo knows all to well from his playing days how much the fixture weighs in importance:

“It will be intense… The psychological part is also crucial.

“The key is going to be in work of everyone and the duels which are going to be practically one-on-one in every area of the pitch.”

“That is where we must make ourselves strong: we have to win every duel to make ourselves strong as a team.”

Fifth-placed River can go as high as second place with a win – just four points off Boca.