Copa Libertadores Final second leg is well worth the wait


Author: Mark Szczuka

Photos: Stephen Gormley (Red Eye Photo Agency)

River Plate came from behind to win the Copa Libertadores second leg Final against deadly Argentinean rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 after extra-time in Madrid, thereby winning the South American Club Championship 5-3 on aggregate.

The historic Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid is well used to hosting El Clásicos between its home club Real Madrid and Barcelona. However this is the first time that it had the unusual and exciting honour of hosting the Superclásico, arguably the biggest derby match in world football between Buenos Aires’ clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The Bernabéu can now add the Copa Libertadores Final (the South American equivalent of the Champions League Final) to its impressive list of international finals including four European Cup Finals, the 1964 Euros Final and the 1982 World Cup Final.

It’s still somewhat bizarre that this prestigious final had been moved half way round the world to a different continent. Yet such measures were deemed necessary by South American Football Association CONMEBOL after several River Plate fans threw bottles at the Boca Juniors team bus injuring several players as they made their way to the original second leg at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium in Argentina’s capital two weeks ago.

Moving a match over 6,000 miles away with ten days notice a couple of weeks before Christmas would ordinarily deter all but the most loyal and crazy football fan from attending. But such is the passion and commitment of the fans of two of Argentinean’s, and world football’s biggest clubs, they actually managed to all but sell out the 81,000 tickets.

In contrast to the ugly scenes in Argentina on Saturday 24 November when the original 2nd leg was postponed following fan violence, the River and Boca fans freely mixed without any hint of trouble in Madrid’s streets, bars and metro in the build up to the rearranged final.

The Boca fans were very happy to see their team get off to the perfect start in the match by taking the lead just before halftime after a goal from Dario Benedetto. River Plate bounced back with an equaliser from Lucas Pratto after 68 minutes.

As the match entered 30 minutes of extra time it took a significant turn when Boca’s Colombian midfielder Wílmar Barrios was sent off for a second yellow card.

Things went from bad to worse for Xeneizes when River Plate took the lead in the 109th minute from Colombian Juan Quintero. Things then went from worse to catastrophe for the Juniors when they went down to nine men after Fernando Gago went off injured in the 116th minute and they weren’t able to bring on a substitute as they had used up their allocation, including an additional one that is now allowed in extra-time.

With six minutes still left to go panic set in for Boca Juniors. Goalkeeper Esteban Andrada decided he would take a significant gamble and head up to River’s penalty area for a corner. Although this is standard practise in the last seconds of injury-time it was quite extraordinary to see it happen with six minutes plus injury time still left to play.

In fact Andrada had the opportunity to go up for a further two corners. Inevitably the gamble didn’t pay off and, during the last corner in the 122nd minute, by which time Boca were down to 9 players, River Plate broke away and Gonzalo Martinez had the easy chance to score into an unguarded net after running half the length of the pitch with an empty sight of goal in front of him. This third goal for River sealed their famous victory.

Boca Juniors goalkeeper goes up for a corner with six minutes left to play.

There will be a very short time for River Plate to enjoy the celebrations, as winning the final qualifies them to participate at the FIFA Club World Cup Championships, which starts for them in eight days in UAE. They’ll at least be thankful that they’re already in Madrid to break the long journey from Argentina. Boca players meanwhile will have the 12-hour flight home to Buenos Aires to think about what might have been. Ironically River Plate are expected to meet UEFA Champions League winners’ Real Madrid in the final in Abu Dhabi on Saturday 22 December after they enjoyed the hospitality of using their stadium to qualify.


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