It was delayed. Suspended. Uprooted. Packed off and shipped across the Atlantic. Simultaneously exploited as a commercial sideshow and devalued almost beyond recognition. And yet still, after weeks of rain, stone-throwing, squabbles, stand-offs and unedifying scandals, the Copa Libertadores ‘Superfinal’ stayed true to form. River Plate and Boca Juniors may not have delivered champagne football at the Bernabeu, but those present in the Spanish capital nevertheless were treated to a spectacle they will not easily forget.
The danger was that, after so much wrangling and public dispute, the second leg of this historic match would prove the bitterest of anti-climaxes. Credit must therefore go to River and equally to Boca for delivering 120 minutes of football that may have been ragged and disorganised at times, yet was hugely engaging and a game worthy of the hype.
Prior to kick-off and beneath the reams of controversy the Superclásico remained a clash between two distinct styles. Would River’s more nuanced approach under now-legendary coach Marcelo Gallardo win the day, as it had in the two derbies played thus far in 2018? Or perhaps Boca’s formidable squad strength would prove too much for the Millonario, who lest we forget were without not only suspended Rafael Borré for the return match, but also fellow striker Ignacio Scocco, leaving them depleted in the final third.
The first half suggested that the latter might prevail. As they had previously done on two occasions in the first leg at the Bombonera – a game that now feels an eternity away following the tussles of the last fortnight – Boca took the lead, Nahitán Nández sending through Darío Benedetto with a pass of surgical precision and the striker repeating his heroics of the opening match and semi-finals with a fine finish. It was a goal worthy of a final, even if Benedetto ensured he would go down in history for the wrong reasons by choosing to mark his strike with an ugly celebration in the face of River’s Gonzalo Montiel. The Millo dominated control of the ball up to the break, but found little joy in breaking through a Boca backline that stood up to everything their rival’s rather pedestrian attack could throw at it.
Ultimately, however, the game hinged on two crucial substitutions that once more exposed the gulf in tactical nous between Gallardo and Boca counterpart Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The Xeneize boss inexplicably pulled off the mobile, dangerous Benedetto in place of Ramón Ábila, a clearly defensive move aimed at holding up the ball and frustrating River which backfired.
Gallardo, meanwhile, threw on the mercurial Juan Quintero to add creative guile to his team’s trundling attack. The change in dynamic paid off almost instantly: River’s first fluid move of the game led to a chance for Lucas Pratto, who repeated his first-leg heroics to equalise and put the Millo in the ascendancy. Then in extra time Quintero himself stepped up to make history, smashing a spectacular left-footed strike past Esteban Andrada to give his team the lead.
A late third goal from ‘Pity’ Martínez into an open net – Andrada stranded up-field having ventured into the River box for a corner – confirmed the fate of the Superfinal. For River, the glory of a fourth Copa Libertadores title, the second in four years, and the prestige of beating their greatest rivals in the final that will be remembered on the terraces for decades to come.
Boca, meanwhile, are plunged into crisis. Without a Copa since 2007, president Daniel Angelici’s promise upon taking office that fans should “renew their passports” in preparation for a Club World Cup campaign has proved only partially prophetic. The Xeneize support did indeed need their passports to watch this strange perversion of a final transplanted to Europe, but they will not be going any further. And while Barros Schelotto has borne much of the blame the most vitriolic criticism has been saved for the president himself, widely slammed for his dealing of this entire fiasco and accused of taking more seriously his role as political and judicial puppet-master for Mauricio Macri than the man who can bring glory back to the Bombonera.
The fall-out from this most controversial of Superclásicos will continue over the weeks and months to come, as the Libertadores’ last two-legged decider – 2019’s final will be played in Santiago as a one-off – was brought into almost irreparable disrepute. But despite all the problems and thousands of kilometres from home, River and Boca at least gave a faithful rendition of South American football at its best – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto to leave Boca Juniors after Copa Libertadores loss
Guillermo Barros Schelotto will leave his post as head coach of Boca Juniors, according to reports in local outlets.
The Xeneize’s defeat against River Plate in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final at theSantiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid was his last match in charge of the club, sources close to the club confirmed to multiple outlets on Thursday night.
The news runs contrary to reports earlier in the week, suggesting Club President Daniel Angelici was ready to offer the ex-Boca player a new oneyear contract.
Barros Schelotto, 45, took charge of the Buenos Aires giant in March 2016, succeeding Rodolfo Arruabarrena, but it seems the 3-1 defeat to the club’s arch-rivals has brought his time in charge to an end.
He led the club to the league title twice (2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons), but could not deliver glory in the Libertadores, which Boca have not won since 2007.
According to reports in Perfil and Clarín, Angelici has already drawn up a list of potential replacements, with Nicolás Burdisso one of the early front-runners for the post. Infobae, meanwhile, said that legendary Boca playmaker Juan Román Riquelme is also under consideration.
Other names thrown around, perhaps somewhat pre-emptively, by local outlets include coaches with links to the club, such as Rolando Schiavi, Martín Palermo and Miguel Ángel Russo.
Barros Schelotto, who spent 10 seasons in the blue-and-yellow strip as a player, led Boca for 117 games in total, winning 63 of those matches, with 31 draws and 23 defeats.