OSAKA, Japan — South American champion River Plate booked a place in the Club World Cup final for the first time in 19 years by beating Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 on Wednesday.
River was matched for large spells by the J-League champion, but Lucas Alario scored in the second half with a header after Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi could only half-punch away a Carlos Sanchez free kick.
"We knew Hiroshima would be an organized team," River coach Marcelo Gallardo said. "But we tried to adjust and be persistent, and were able to score from the free kick."
Yusuke Minagawa had the best chances for Hiroshima in the first half, but failed to convert a trio of opportunities.
In the final on Sunday, River faces either Barcelona or Guangzhou Evergrande, who meet on Thursday.
Hiroshima takes on the loser of that game in the third-place playoff the same day.
River won the Club World Cup in 1986 on debut, and lost the ’96 final to Juventus.
A large contingent of River Plate fans were at Nagai Stadium.
"To get such support here in Japan gave us huge energy," Gallardo said. "We were all dreaming of going to the final."
Meanwhile, Dario Benedetto and Martin Zuniga scored first-half goals as Mexico’s Club America beat TP Mazembe 2-1 to finish in fifth place.
Benedetto put the CONCACAF champion ahead in the 19th minute and Zuniga widened the lead 10 minutes later when he tapped in a loose ball from close range.
Rainford Kalaba pulled one back for the African champion with two minutes remaining in the first half.