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River Plate tries to hang on to season against bitter rival Boca Juniors in Copa Sudamericana

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A few days ago everything looked good for River Plate. It was atop the Argentine standings and headed into a first-leg match against Buenos Aires rival Boca Juniors in the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana — Latin America's No. 2 club tournament.

Then its season started to unravel.

River fell 1-0 on Sunday to Racing Club, lifting Racing into first and dropping River to second. River has picked up only two of a possible 12 points in its last four matches.

A few days earlier, River slogged to a 0-0 draw at Boca. The two meet again in the second leg of the Copa Sudamerica at River's Monumental stadium with Boca a slight favorite to reach the final against Sao Paulo of Brazil or Atletico Nacional of Colombia.

PHOTO: In this Nov. 20, 2014 photo, Boca Juniors' Andres Chavez, left, fights for the ball with River Plate's Jonatan Maidana during a Copa Sudamericana semi-finals soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In this Nov. 20, 2014 photo, Boca Juniors' Andres Chavez, left, fights for the ball with River Plate's Jonatan Maidana during a Copa Sudamericana semi-finals soccer match in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Boca, which has little chance of winning the league, has rested its top players. Meanwhile, River has been playing its top players in every match.

"It's important that they (River) did not score an away goal in the first match," Boca midfielder Fernando Gago said. "It will be a tough game, but our idea is to go for it; in other words, attack."

Violence threatens any match between the two. Separate groups of River hooligans brawled with each other on Tuesday at River's stadium, using clubs and knives in a turf war over the right to scalp tickets. There were no arrests reported with much of hooligan gang warfare — as usual — left unpunished.

"We have to end this violence," River President Rodolfo D'Onofrio said. "We can identify the horde of 100 thugs that entered the area."

He did not say what measures would be taken to arrest or charge anyone.

Because of recurring violence, Argentine football authorities have barred visiting fans from attending away matches — meaning Boca fans are banned from being in the stadium on Thursday with River fans.

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