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SPORTS | 25-04-2024 20:16

Superclásico victory boosts Boca’s Copa hopes

Boca's 3-2 victory over rivals River was a vindication of the work Diego Martínez has put in to whip the Xeneize into shape since taking over as coach.

For all its tradition, passion and pageantry the Superclásico can at times be somewhat of a letdown when its two illustrious participants actually take the field. This was not the case on Sunday. In their second meeting of 2024 Boca Juniors and River Plate served up a footballing treat in line with this fascinating Copa de la Liga season, which ended with the former celebrating and, as is almost obligatory in such circumstances, no little controversy along the way.

Boca’s 3-2 victory was above all a vindication of the work Diego Martínez has put in to whip the Xeneize into shape since taking over as coach at the start of the year. This was an entirely different team to that which spoiled River’s game plan back in February with a very much safety-first approach, leading to his counterpart Martín Demichelis’ jibe about his rivals finishing the game with “seven defenders.”

Sunday, by contrast, saw Boca on the front foot throughout, even at the risk of leaving themselves exposed in their own half as was the case for Miguel Borja’s early smash and grab goal. Martínez’s charges brushed off that setback and levelled just before the break through Miguel Merentiel, setting off a memorable afternoon for Uruguayan strikers in Córdoba. Edinson Cavani netted his own strike on the hour and, taking advantage of a momentary meltdown in River ranks following the inexplicable withdrawal of Claudio Echeverri, five minutes later Merentiel swooped again to set the Xeneize on the path to victory.

Prior to that double blow for the Millonario came the moment for which the game will be best remembered. A goalmouth melee led to Cristian Lema turning the ball towards his own net, while Sergio Romero scrambled to claw it off his own line. Referee Yael Falcón Pérez initially ruled that Romero had failed in his task, only for VAR to overturn his decision after what felt like an eternity of deliberation and deem that the ball had not entirely crossed the line. In truth, no camera angle gave conclusive proof and the fantastic, incontrovertible goal-line technology which has made such disputes a thing of the past elsewhere is not in use locally, meaning that we may never know if River deserved to go up 2-1 or if the video referees were correct in their analysis – a wholly frustrating turn of events, particularly when a definitive solution has been available for years.

River, then, might have cause for complaint (but then again, they might not). Still, this defeat, just like all of their missteps over what has been an uneven 2024, feels more than anything of their own making. From failing to push the advantage at 1-0 to the decision to take off Echeverri at such a key juncture – Demichelis later explained that the young hotshot had been suffering a fever prior to the derby – and the patent failure to bounce back following the disallowed goal and Boca’s surge, the Núñez side and their coach erred in crucial areas that allowed their nemesis to claw their way back and advance, though a thrilling late win over Libertad in Wednesday’s Copa Libertadores clash showed there is still plenty of fight in this side even when far from firing on full cylinders.

The Libertadores run will serve as ample distraction for the Millo, but it is Boca who advance domestically as they prepare for another trip to Córdoba on Tuesday against Estudiantes. With Argentinos Juniors and Vélez Sarsfield also still in the mix the Copa de la Liga is too close to call, but this convincing Superclásico victory puts Boca in the driving-seat as they seek to clinch the first trophy of Martínez’s short yet promising tenure.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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