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SPORTS | 15-05-2021 12:18

Boca bid to break River hoodoo in Sunday Superclásico

Seventeen years almost to the day have now passed since Boca Juniors last got the better of River Plate in a knock-out tournament, in the 2004 Copa Libertadores.

Néstor Kirchner was in his second year as President of Argentina. The United States dollar was being traded at a solid three pesos. Mauricio Macri was still in charge at the Bombonera and preparing for a second attempt at the mayor's seat in Buenos Aires City after falling short on the first try to Aníbal Ibarra. Elsewhere in the world, the European Union was growing with the addition of 10 new nations, George W. Bush was well on the way to his second term in the White House and a Harvard student by the name of Mark Zuckerberg had just launched his own, obscure social media network to connect his colleagues by the name of Facebook.

Seventeen years almost to the day have now passed since Boca Juniors last got the better of River Plate in a knock-out tournament, in the 2004 Copa Libertadores in June of that year. The Xeneize now have another chance to arrest that horrendous record, as they once more pit their wits against their arch-rivals in tomorrow's pick of the Copa Liga Profesional quarters.

One man has been more responsible than any other for the drought. Marcelo Gallardo has faced off against Boca five times in such competition and won each time, the first victory coming in the 2014 Copa Sudamericana last four. Rodolfo Arruabarrena, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gustavo Alfaro have all tried and failed to vanquish the River idol; now the onus is on Miguel Ángel Russo to overturn the curse.

On the pitch this time round there seems little to choose from either side. Boca looked slightly stronger during the first phase of the Copa, sealing qualification with a game to spare while River needed an emphatic win over Aldosivi on the last weekend to book their place in the play-offs. March's Superclásico, though, as with the previous playing in January, showed the pair are well-matched, with an entertaining clash at the Bombonera finishing 1-1 with a player sent off from both sides. In the Libertadores too, both teams have made steady if unspectacular starts to the group phase and are well-placed to push on for a place in the knock-out phase.

And in spite of the potential fatigue that this, the third Superclásico in four months, might inspire in fans, there are a few fresh faces to excite partisans and neutrals alike. Young River striker Federico Girotti announced himself to the world in January with his goal in the fixture and, alongside defender David Martínez, is now a regular face in the Millonario line-up. The Boca faithful, meanwhile, are enthused by the emergence of the brilliant teenager Cristian Medina in midfield, while Alan Varela and the rejuvenated Agustín Almendra have also become fixtures for Russo in the middle of the pitch.

Then, of course, there is Tevez. The only survivor of that 2004 series – the then-20-year-old netted against River late in the game and was promptly sent off for his infamous 'chicken dance' in front of a seething Monumental – is still going, and having finished on the losing side of the last three of those clashes is desperate to get one over his old enemies. Carlitos has also gone nine games and six years without finding the net against the Millonario, a run he is keen to rectify. “We are leaving angry because of the result. River looked nervous, I've never seen them like that,” he fired to reporters after March's draw; this time know, there has to be a winner and a loser, and yet another failure on Boca's part would heap the pressure on everyone involved at the club while only furthering Gallardo's reputation as the man with the Midas touch when it comes to derby glory.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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