Today is the first leg of two in the 2018 Copa Libertadores final. La Bombonera Stadium is the venue where home team Boca Juniors will play their arch rivals River Plate in what is called the Superclásico. It will be the first Superclásico which is also the final of the biggest club football tournament in South America. We're getting spoiled because in two weeks from now it will all happen again, but then we have to take the results from the first leg into account when they move over to the Estadio El Monumental just twelve kilometers further up in the city of Buenos Aires.
Boca Juniors against River Plate is one of the greatest city derbies in the world. Question is if there is even a greater one than this. There is a reason why they call it the Superclásico.
The furthest stage until today in which Boca and River met in the Copa Libertadores was in the semi finals back in 2004. Also then Boca played the first leg at home and manage to win it 1-0. Boca's Raúl Alfrédo Cascini received a red card during that match, as well did current River manager Marcelo Gallardo. In the return Boca player Fabián Vargas was sent off just after the start of the second half.
This put River in the position to come back and they did so, as Lucho González put them 1-0 in front. Moving towards extra time River's Rubens Sambueza was sent off as well. This was the moment where all emotions got immensly intense. River Manager Leo Astrada got so angry that he was sent off too, alongside his assistant manager and the team's physio.
A bit later Ricardo Rojas was unable to continue due to an injury, but River had already used all three substitutes, meaning they had to finish the match with only 9 men. Six minutes before time Carlos Tévez seemed to seal the deal scoring the equaliser. He was then sent off whilst celebrating by taking his shirt off and acting like a chicken. Fans of other teams then River tend to make fun of them by addressing them as chicken. Awkwardly enough the referee did the same thing when showing everybody the reason for sending him off.
With both teams down to 9 men River scored again thanks to Cristian Nasuti in injury time. Back then away goals were not yet taken into consideration, meaning the match went into extra time and later into a penalty shoot out. Boca came out as the winner of the penalty shoot out in the El Monumental Stadium.
Like in several other matches around the world away fans will not be allowed at the opposite stadium. This downgrades the rivalry experience for some, but for the safety of the fans either way, it is inevitable. Boca is seen as the hard workers, representing the industrial area of the city, whereas River represents the stylish and the more prosperous Argentines.
In 2012 River fans delayed the start of the second half by floating a massive inflatable pig in the colours of Boca right in front of the of the away fans. It seemed like it was a funny joke, but it was the start of a serious and dangerous mock against Boca fans. Stewards were dragged to the top of the stand and then pushed down the stairs symbolising pieces of brick collapsing. Boca is known as "Los Bosteros". Bosta is Spanish for manure, which is used in the dominating brick industry in the La Boca neighbourhood.
River wasn't far from not participating in the final this year as there are several reasons why they supposedly could and should have not made it.
Manager Gallardo was suspended for the second semi final leg against Brazilian team Grêmio. The reason behind that was that he sent out his players back onto the pitch after half time in the first leg with a delay. However he managed to enter the dressing room at half time during the second leg being covered up with a baseball cap pointing down on his head and pulling his collar up. He was escorted into the dressing room by River's own security members who somehow managed to keep the official security hired by CONMEBOL away. It is said that Gallardo also was illegally in contact during the match with his assistant manager.
River lost the first match 0-1 at home and were also 1-0 down in Brazil. It seemed to be clear that Grêmio was going to reach the Copa Libertadores final, until Rafael Borre scored a goal for River Plate with only 9 minutes left on the clock. What looked like to be a goal only for the statistics turned out to become a very important goal when deep in injury time the VAR awarded a penalty to River for a handball inside the box. Gonzalo Martínez scored the 1-2, which secured River a place into the final on away goals.
Grêmio appealed against the happenings involving Gallardo, but the CONMEBOL waved the appeal away. Instead of being eliminated from the competition Gallardo was fined and suspended for another three matches. Earlier in the round of 16 of the tournament River fielded an ineligible player who still was suspended from a match in 2013. They got away with it due to their opponents Racing Club (another Argentinian team) failing to appeal within 24 hours after the match ended.
Boca's qualification for the final was more confident as they won 4-2 on aggregate over Brazilian leaders Palmeiras over 2 matches. This will probably make them the favorites for the final. The Superclásico is however one of a kind and a match on its own and it will be very hard to predict what is going to happen exactly.
So far the teams have met in official competitions a total of 246 times and results have been fairly equal throughout the history. Boca has the slight overhand by winning 88 clashes whereas River managed to win 81. A total of 77 times the match ended in a draw. Out of the 620 goals scored between them Boca scored 322 and River had 298 of them.
What can we expect today? Fact is that both teams are currently not dominating the Argentine Superliga. The question is if that is due to them currently focusing more on the Cope Libertadores than on the domestic league, or that they are simply not strong enough to keep up with the rest of the teams. Fact is that they qualified for this final, meaning that I tend to lean towards the first option. Carlos Tévez is back at Boca which will for sure be in influence on the atmosphere during the clash today and in two weeks. River is the team that won the last match between the two clubs, when they beat Boca 0-2 in La Bombonera in September. In fact River Plate has won the five last matches and nine out of the last ten away matches in La Bombanera. On their hand Boca has won three of the last four away matches in El Monumental. The home advantage is certainly not visible in this clash in the last couple of seasons. We have to go back to May 2015 for the last time that the home team, River, won. Back then, also in the Copa Libertadores the final result was 1-0.
When it comes to the current form of both teams, we can say that since 23 September when River won the last match 0-2 Boca has played nine matches of which it won only three times, four matches ended in a draw, which means they lost two, both of which were agains the same team Gimnasia La Plata (0-1 at home and 2-1 away). It shows that Boca is hard to beat, but not impossible to beat, they also have trouble securing the win. That said, they managed to win three of their four last home matches and drew the other one. From the last 15 home matches, they won 11 times, drew once and lost three times.
Since the 23rd of September River played a total of eight matches and managed to win five and lost three of them. They won three of their last five away games and lost two. It seems like River is never involved in draws, but then when we look at the statistics of their last 15 away matches we suddenly see seven wins, three losses and five draws. It shows that whilst being able to be beaten away, River is not easy to beat when on the road. Their Superclásico away record of the last couple of seasons proves that.
Based on all that is written above, I believe that River Plate has a good chance of winning the game 1-2, meaning both teams will score and there will be more than 2.5 goals in the match.
Please share your thoughts and predictions on this match. I'm eager to find out what you believe is going to happen.
Thank you for reading.