Nico Miremont –
Boca Juniors vs River Plate – Saturday, November 11, 15:00ART/19:00GMT/20:00 CET – Estadio Alberto J. Armando ‘La Bombonera’, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The day is upon us now, well with some delay given that it was supposed to take place yesterday. The one which will probably be the greatest final in the history of football is just around the corner. Although there is no need for presentations of any kind, we will remind you in case you still doubt whether you are dreaming or not. Here we go: Boca Juniors vs River Plate, who together represent the fiercest club rivalry in the world, are playing in the final of the CONMEBOL Libertadores. All speculations are of no use now, it is time for those who begged for this final and those who didn’t to face their fate.
Some years ago, when CONMEBOL’s new administration took up the colossal task of healing a confederation sick to the very core as a result of the FIFA Gate scandal, no-one dared to imagine this day would ever come.
Primarily, because after the 2005 and 2006 editions of the final were monopolised by Brazilian teams, a new article was introduced to the cumulus of competition rules in the hopes of avoiding this. Today, this article is gone, and finals between clubs from the same country are permitted, while in the past (2007 – 2016) those two compatriots in risk of reaching the final would be forced to eliminate each other in the semi-finals for the sake of diversity.
Additionally, because this is the last two-legged final, we will get to enjoy. The winds of change have brought with them new companies in charge of distributing the audio-visual rights to the competitions. Along with that, Europeanisation, whose prophets put a single final from now on as one of their requirements. Everything is already decided, and the closing match of the 2019 edition will take place across the Andes, at the Estadio Nacional in the picturesque city of Santiago de Chile. Returning to the present day now, a Superclasico taking place in the last ever final under the traditional two-legged format has got something of a bittersweet feel to it. One of the most attractive aspects of the competition is disappearing for good, but a least it is getting the farewell it deserves.
As to the match itself, itis difficult to pinpoint a specific origin to the series of events that lead to this final. Both clubs are financially stable and healthy in every other aspect. This is something we have only become used to in recent years.
Under Marcelo Gallardo’s leadership, River are set to play their eleventh final in five years. That number is simply astonishing and speaks very well of their administration. The Millonarios’ main strength had undoubtedly been international football, having won the Sudamericana, Libertadores, Recopa Sudamericana, and Suruga Bank Cup, all in great style. They propose an overwhelming presence on the pitch, with possession as their main tool, something quite noticeable and an identifying mark of Gallardo’s work.
However, many will agree when highlighting his squad’s character as the secret ingredient for success. Over these four years, Gallardo’s men acquired more and more confidence by beating countless rivals in adverse situations – be it with the ball, with psychological strategy or even with bureaucracy (if we consider the pepper spray incident). Like it or not, the truth is that River have become a true copero team, one that knows how to win these competitions and a true specialist in face-to-face encounters. Furthermore, having faced and beaten Boca in two of the above mentioned – Sudamericana and Libertadores – gives them an extra boost of confidence amid the encounter.
Gallardo’s men are safe at the back with the presence of Franco Armani, Javier Pinola and Jonathan Maidana. Fullbacks Gonzalo Montiel and Milton Casco are a vital asset of River’s attacking movements, functioning as two extra attackers. In the middle of the park, Enzo Pérez and Bruno Zuculini (who will be replacing injured captain Leonardo Ponzio) will look to neutralise Boca’s counterparts in that sector, hoping that the attacking quartet of Exequiel Palacios, Gonzalo Martínez, Lucas Pratto and Rafael Santos Borré can get the job done up top. Marcelo Gallardo will not be allowed to attend either of the two finals after he ignored a suspension during the return leg of the semifinal against Grêmio.
Boca Juniors, on the other hand, have not been the main protagonist on the international stage but rather locally for the past two years. Back-to-back Superliga champions, Guillermo and Gustavo Barros Schelotto, have transited ups and downs during their managerial spell. Many are the ones who claim that the mística copera no longer belongs to Boca, considering their recent continental failures. And although half of their people rate two local titles quite highly, the other half is not as satisfied with that only, arguing Boca is meant to be challenging for continental success on a yearly basis. Luckily, their last four matches against Cruzeiro and Palmeiras have seen some of the best displays of football from the Xeneize. This can only be positive for this final, as Boca can challenge River’s dominance this time.
In goal will be Agustín Rossi, questioned but only remaining option after Esteban Andrada’s jaw injury. The back line will look to offer the same guarantees as during the last four matches, with the added threat of Carlos Izquierdoz’ aerial aptitudes. In the middle, Wilmar Barrios will as always act as the source of balance and will also keep Pablo Pérez and Nahitan Nández’ backs covered. In attack, the twins will hope their strategy of widening the pitch with two natural wingers such as Cristian Pavón and Sebastián Villa will keep River’s dangerous full-backs away from their box. Finally, despite Benedetto being available, Ramón ‘Wanchope’ Ábila will start as Boca will need his physical strength against Maidana and Pinola.
This first final shall be contested and thought, more than anything. Getting the first goal will be key since both want to reach the return leg having the upper hand. As in every recent Superclasico, the main dispute will be in the middle, where the team that manages to get the ball and retain it will surely come out on top.
The apocalyptic characteristics of this Superclasico are responsible for its charm, evidently different from any previous one. Over one hundred and twenty years of football institutionalisation, never have these two giants met at a continental final. This makes collateral effects beyond the encompassment of football likely to exist. Several days were needed for CONMEBOL to surrender to the broadcaster Fox Sports’ intentions of changing the dates of the finals to Saturdays due to rating matters.
Additionally, the Superclasico has practically become a matter of State importance. Both the world of politics at national and sports levels have referred to the event on numerous occasions. The government saw an opportunity in this to earn points amid next year’s elections by publicly suggesting that away fans should be allowed at the games, thus being able to show the world how capable they are of handling what the previous administration chose to forbid. This strategy failed. The clubs did everything in their power to avoid catching the hot potato the government had just thrown for them to catch, making even more clear what their position regarding the return of away fans, for it means fewer security costs and additional tickets sold to associates.
As we have seen, the Superclasico final promises to be much more than a football match. It represents the ultimate battle between two eternal rivals. Both teams will look to win the first leg and reach the rematch in two weeks ready to complete the job and achieve eternal glory.
In the periphery, the entire country is hanging on the edge of its seat, partly because of a seemingly never-ending crisis, partly because of this match. Argentina is the perfect representation of the impact football can have in both society and its politics, this time more relevant than ever given the times Argentines are living.
Boca Juniors vs River Plate – Players to look out for:
Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martínez #10 – River Plate
Martínez has been on fire lately. He once arrived at River Plate as one of the biggest promises in Argentina, but never fulfilled his presaged potential. Already a Copa winner with River, he has bounced back from the poorest run of form of his career and is said to be Atlanta United’s next South American star. Today, he is undisputedly a fan favorite. His quick feet combined with a great momentum will present Boca’s backline with a proper task to keep themselves entertained.
Darío Benedetto #9 – Boca Juniors
There is not much to say about Darío Benedetto at this point. In case you are not sure what we mean, go watch his three goals in two matches against Palmeiras, learn about his story here, and then draw your own conclusions. Benedetto’s right foot could be crucial should he come on as a super-sub again, in the hopes of getting that first goal at home. His presence on the pitch not only means a constant threat but also creates numerous opportunities for his teammates, turning him into a double threat for any opponent.
Boca Juniors vs River Plate – Match Stats
- It will be the 24th time Boca Juniors vs River Plate face each other in the Copa Libertadores. So far it stands ten wins for Boca, seven for River and seven draws.
- This is Boca Juniors’ eleventh final. No other team has managed to reach it that many times. They have won six of them (1977, 1978, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007).
- Both teams reach the final with the same record of six victories, five draws, and only one defeat.
- Even though many players have worn both sets of colours throughout history, only two have won the Libertadores with both clubs: Nicolás Bertolo, now playing for Banfield, and Jonathan Maidana, who will be playing on Saturday.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Boca Juniors vs River Plate – 1-0
Boca Juniors vs River Plate – Possible lineups
Rossi – L. Jara; C. Izquierdoz; L. Magallán; L. Olaza – N. Nández; W. Barrios; P. Pérez – S. Villa; R. Ábila; C. Pavón
Manager: Guillermo and Gustavo Barros Schelotto
Armani – G. Montiel; J. Maidana; J. Pinola; M. Casco – E. Palacios; B. Zuculini; E. Pérez; G. Martínez – R. Borré; L. Pratto
Manager: Marcelo Gallardo (Matías Biscay will replace him on the bench due to his three-match suspension).
Nicolás Miremont is a student living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a football melancholic, Nico has a very fond memory of the simpler times in the game, resulting in a troubled relationship with the globalisation and capitalisation of the sport. Also a confessed football hipster, his heart is divided between Boca Juniors, the Seattle Sounders, Zenit Saint Petersburg and a few others. While he struggles to decide between pursuing civil engineering or social studies, he intends to publish original content on the more abstract side of Argentine and South American football that of feelings and social impact combining his three passions: football, politics and writing. Follow him on Twitter @Kerzhakovista.