Monday, February 26, 2024

SPORTS | 13-03-2021 08:33

Boca, River gear up for another Superclásico without fans

La Bombonera set to host its second derby match against River Plate in the space of two months – the atmosphere remains far from normal, but is another thriller on the way?

After an entire year without the hype, anticipation and (occasional) excitement of the Superclásico, Boca Juniors' Bombonera home hosts tomorrow its second derby match against River Plate in the space of two months. The first was almost lost in the midst of both sides' Copa Libertadores exertions, a fact that served if anything to increase enjoyment for the neutral as supporters of the two teams involved kept one eye elsewhere.

Back on January 2, an atypical date for football on which most Argentine households are still clearing up or recovering from the festivities of the New Year, Boca and River played out one of the most entertaining Superclásicos in recent memory. Ramón Ábila opened the scoring for the hosts after just five minutes to establish a lead Boca maintained for a large chunk of the game, before the Millonario came roaring back. Federico Girotti and Rafael Borré scored in quick succession to turn the tables on the Xeneize, and only Sebastián Villa's effort in the dying minutes salvaged a point for Miguel Ángel Russo's men.

That game has been largely consigned to memory, a logical consequence of the events which followed. Just three days later River opened their Libertadores semi-final tie against Palmeiras with a bruising 3-0 defeat, while Boca drew against Santos 24 hours later. Those gripping Argentina-Brazil clashes meant that for once the derby post-mortem was kept short and sweet, with both Superclásico rivals going out in the last four and Boca pushing back to win the consolation prize of the Copa Diego Armando Maradona.

What then, has changed since that last match? On the surface, not a whole lot. Both Boca and River have stayed largely unchanged over the summer, with few departures and even fewer arrivals. The Xeneize remain perpetually on the verge of apparent crisis, even as they continue to ground out result after result – and on occasion look very good indeed, as in Sunday's 7-1 thrashing of Vélez Sarsfield – while River's consistently inconsistent 'league' form (suffering two defeats in four games to date in the Copa Liga Profesional) is compensated by Marcelo Gallardo's unerring knack of picking up silverware, his 12th trophy with the Millo arriving at the expense of Racing Club in March's long-delayed 2019 Supercopa.

Tomorrow's meeting thus appears well-matched, with Boca perhaps enjoying the benefit of slightly better form going into the game but River always capable of springing a surprise on their arch-rivals. One advantage Miguel Ángel Russo's men will miss is a partisan home support: the Bombonera, in common with almost all of Argentina's football stadiums, remains closed to the general public, meaning that any chants, flares or fireworks will have to reach over its towering walls and into the porteño sky. 

What we saw in the last match as a result of that restriction might be encouraging, though: without the fans' pressure, a more open, less nervous game on the field itself, a precedent that might bode well for this latest clash and make up somewhat for the lack of atmosphere and colour in what is historically one of the world's most famed club derbies.  

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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