Thursday 08 November 2018, 11:16

Boca, River and a long-running Libertadores rivalry

  • Stage is set for mouth-watering Copa Libertadores final

  • Rivals River and Boca to go head to head, Club World Cup berth on the line

  • Look back at famous Superclásico Copa clashes ahead of the duel

The final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores, which will see Buenos Aires rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors go head to head in the first leg on Saturday, will bring South America to a halt. It is the first time the two old enemies have met to decide who will win the competition. The winners will also have a very special prize awaiting them: a place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018.

The Superclásico rivals have met 24 times in South America’s premier club competition since first locking horns in 1966, with Boca claiming ten wins, River seven and the other seven matches ending in draws. Some of those matches proved crucial to one or the other kicking on to win the coveted trophy.

Setting the scene for one of the biggest ever finals in the history of club football, looks back at four of those historic meetings.

River 0-2 Boca, 1978

River, Boca and Atletico Mineiro of Brazil were drawn into one of two three-team groups that would decide who would contest the final. Los Xeneizes went into the game, held at River’s Estadio Monumental, with a two-point lead over Los Millonarios, who had to win to force a play-off. Adding even more spice to the occasion was that the fact that Boca coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo and his River counterpart Angel Labruna had clashed over the make-up of the Argentina squad that had won the FIFA World Cup™ on home soil earlier that year, which contained five River players and none from Boca.

The visitors won courtesy of goals from Ernesto Heber Mastrangelo and Carlos Salinas. “I always knocked River out of the Libertadores. I scored every time we faced each other,” said Mastrangelo, who played for both clubs, years later.

What happened next?

Defending champions Boca, who also lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 1977, beat Deportivo Cali of Colombia to win their second Libertadores in a row.

Boca 1-1 River, 1986

The 1986 tournament got under way only ten days after Argentina had been crowned world champions at Mexico 1986, with the Buenos Aires giants meeting at La Bombonera. River went into the tournament with the considerable burden of never having won it before.

River players Nery Pumpido, Oscar Ruggeri and Hector Enrique had barely had a rest after helping their country lift the world title, while their team was playing its first match since April. Boca, who had qualified for the competition in mid June, took the lead through an Alfredo Graciani penalty and were by far the better side. They could not prevent River from claiming a point, however, with Roque Alfaro equalising against the run of play as half-time approached.

What happened next?

River won the group and never looked back. After knocking out Argentinos Juniors and Barcelona of Ecuador in the second round, they then beat America de Cali of Colombia in the final to become Libertadores champions for the first time. “If Boca had beaten us in that game, it would have made life very tough for us,” River coach Hector Veira later said. “The players had just come back from the World Cup and Enzo Francescoli had gone. There was a lot of uncertainty at the club. We deserved to lose that day but you need a bit of luck in life, and to win the Copa too.”

Boca 3-0 River, 2000

Boca went into this quarter-final second leg trailing 2-1 from the first, played at the Monumental. Los Xeneizes had not won the Libertadores since 1978 and the return was a make-or-break match for a side that had won the league title under Carlos Bianchi but was eager for continental silverware. This was a high-class encounter, with Juan Roman Riquelme and Walter Samuel on one side and Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola on the other, to name just some of the stars who lined up that day.

Boca’s goals came from Marcelo Delgado, a Riquelme penalty and Martin Palermo, whose side-footed strike is fondly remembered by their fans, as he had only just returned from a knee ligament injury and was far from being fully fit. “If Palermo plays, then we’re going to play Enzo [Francescoli, who had retired two years earlier],” joked River coach Americo Gallego before the game. Palermo, also known as El Loco (“The Mad One”), played just 13 minutes but was fit enough to turn in the box and seal victory for his side.

What happened next?

After dramatically knocking out Mexico’s Club America in the semi-final, Boca beat Palmeiras on penalties in Brazil to win the first of three Copa Libertadores under Bianchi.

River 1-0 Boca, 2015

Boca boasted the best record in the group phase, having won all six of their matches. Their opponents in the last 16 were a River side that had the worst and which only made it through on the final matchday thanks to results elsewhere. Recent history also weighed heavily against Los Millonarios. They had not won the Libertadores in 19 years and had played in the second tier in the meantime. Meanwhile Boca had lifted the trophy four times since 2000 and went into the game as firm favourites, despite having lost to their cross-town rivals in the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana a few months earlier.

Nevertheless, River won a tight, fractious first leg thanks to a Carlos Sanchez penalty, while the return at the Bombonera was abandoned at half-time and the tie awarded to Los Millonarios when the River players came under attack from a section of the home crowd.

What happened next?

Marcelo Gallardo’s side recorded an emphatic away win over Brazil’s Cruzeiro in the quarter-finals, squeezed past Guarani of Paraguay in the semis, and went on to win their third and most recent Copa against Tigres of Mexico on a rainy night at the Estadio Monumental.