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SPORTS | 06-10-2023 11:29

Boca Juniors beat Palmeiras on penalties to reach Copa Libertadores final

Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the hero as Boca Juniors beat Palmeiras 4-2 on penalties to set up a clash with Brazilian club Fluminense in the Copa Libertadores final.

Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the hero as Boca Juniors beat Palmeiras 4-2 on penalties after their Copa Libertadores semi-final, second leg ended 1-1 on Thursday, to set up a clash with Brazilian club Fluminense in the final.

Edinson Cavani had put Boca ahead in the 23rd minute but after the Argentine club had defender Marcos Rojo sent off in the 66th minute, Joaquín Piquerez grabbed a leveller only for Boca to triumph in the shoot-out with Romero making two huge saves.

"I'm 36 years old and I'm at an age when I like to have fun, and for me penalties are fun," said Romero, the former Albiceleste national team keeper who had helped his team to penalties wins in the previous two rounds.

Boca now have a chance to match Independiente's record of seven Libertadores titles when they face a Fluminense team who are looking for the first triumph in South America's top club competition.

"You dream about these kind of days when you are a kid and so to live it is a unique, special experience," said Boca midfielder Ezequiel Fernández.

"It's history but we know how big we are, how great we are but it is still a dream," he added.

Fluminense beat Internacional 2-1 on Wednesday to book their place in the November 4 final, which will be held at their home venue, the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.

Boca grabbed the lead in the 23rd minute with a goal created by two Uruguayans – Miguel Merentiel did well down the left flank, bustling past Gustavo Gómez and putting in a low ball which veteran striker Cavani slid in from a yard out.

Valentín Barco then tested Palmeiras keeper Weverton with a low drive from 25 yards through a crowded penalty area which the Brazilian keeper got down well to.

Boca's back line was solid, frustrating Palmeiras and reducing them to trying their luck from distance.

The São Paulo side made a double change at the break – bringing on the highly-rated 17-year-old Endrick and 20-year-old forward Kevin to inject some pace and energy into their attack.

The move paid off with Endrick, who has an agreement to join Real Madrid when he turns 18 next July, troubling the Boca back-line with his sharp movement.

Boca keeper Sergio Romero was forced into two saves, keeping out efforts from Mayke and then Ze Rafael as the home side piled on the pressure.

 

Moment of madness

But then a moment of madness from Boca's experienced former Manchester United central defender Rojo in the 66th minute saw him sent off for a second yellow after a late, lunging challenge on Kevin.

Palmeiras smelt blood and piled forward in search of the leveller and Romero showed great reflexes to parry a firm, glancing header from Rony.

The Brazilians got their reward when Boca cleared a corner out to Piquerez who unleashed a fierce drive from 25 yards which took a slight deflection and although Romero got a hand on the shot it whistled into the net.

Palmeiras pushed for a late winner but Romero denied them again with a fine save from a brilliant Rony overhead kick while at the other end, Cavani could have won it on the break but he slipped as he shot from a great position on the left.

With no away goals rule, nor extra-time in the competition, the contest went to penalties and Cavani missed the first effort for Boca.

But Romero then saved the first two efforts from Palmeiras, diving to keep out the efforts from Raphael Veiga and Gómez.

There were no more errors, however, and Guillermo Fernández kept his cool with the final spot-kick for Boca to seal the win and the place in the final.

 

Press praise

Romero dominated Argentina's frontpages on Friday morning after his brilliant performance.

"Chiquito infernal," headlined Crónica, referring to the goalkeeper's nickname, who "once again played the role of hero in the Xeneize's epic victory over Palmeiras," wrote the newspaper. 

"With a heroic Romero Boca returns to the final," splashed Clarin, stressing that the goalkeeper also made "decisive saves during the match."

Sports paper Olé publishes an image of Romero hugging Cavani, with the phrase: "We love Chiquito." 

The same image was published in Diario Popular, with the headline "Vamos por la séptima" ("Let's go for the seventh") – a reference to the previous six Libertadores that Boca have already claimed.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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