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River Plate crush Oriente to close on Cup place

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - River Plate crushed Bolivia's Oriente Petrolero 6-0 on Thursday to virtually book their place in South America's Libertadores Cup.

The Argentine side failed to qualify outright for the tournament due to an indifferent domestic campaign last year, forcing them to face Oriente in a two-legged preliminary round match.

With former Argentina captain and coach Daniel Passarella in charge for his first competitive game, the twice Libertadores champions responded with a ruthless performance.

Two spot kicks by Marcelo Gallardo and goals from Jonathan Santana, Daniel Montenegro, Ernesto Farias and Andres San all but confirmed River's presence in the 2006 tournament.

Oriente's misery was compounded when midfielder Eduardo Melgar was shown the red card after lashing out at River Plate defender Paulo Ferrari.

The sides meet again in Santa Cruz de la Sierra next Thursday. River Plate should now join Paraguay's Libertad, El Nacional of Ecuador and Brazil's Paulista in Group Eight.

River's great local rivals, five-times Libertadores champions Boca Juniors, did not quality for the 2006 competition.

Brazilian club Goias held Ecuador's Deportivo Cuenca to a 1-1 draw in the other preliminary round game on Thursday.

Sweeper Rogerio Correa headed Goias into a first-half lead but Holger Matamoros scored a fine equalising goal by controlling a high ball before shooting home.

Goias were one of the surprises of the 2005 Brazilian championship and the game against Deportivo was their first appearance in the Libertadores Cup.

The sides are battling for a place in Group Three, where the winners will join Bolivia's The Strongest, Argentina's Newell's Old Boys and Chilean club Union Espanola.