River Plate defeats Boca Juniors in historic Copa Libertadores final

Amidst troubling circumstances, Buenos Aires rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors faced off in the 2nd leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final at the Santiago Bernabéu.


Photo courtesy of Evening Standard

River Plate players celebrate their victory after the final whistle was blown.

River Plate 3-1 Boca Juniors (5-3)

MADRID — After delays, postponements and suspensions, the second leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final was finally played out Sunday at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid. The match was initially set to be hosted in Buenos Aires, but changed venue after a series of violent attacks on players and officials.

For the first time in the competition’s 58-year history, the final was an edition of the fiercely passionate Argentine Superclásico. The first leg was held at La Bombonera, Boca’s home stadium in Buenos Aires, and finished in a 2-2 draw.

Even following through with the second leg was called into question following an attack on the Boca Junior team bus Nov. 24, which left several players unfit to play. Much of the violence erupted from River fans, who surrounded the vehicle transporting players to the venue.

After lengthy delays, CONMEBOL, South America’s football governing association, announced Nov. 29 that the match would be played in Spain. That the “Liberators’ Cup” — a tournament established to celebrate the independence of South American countries from Spain — would be held in Madrid, was an irony not lost to many supporters.

Like the first leg of the final, the second leg ended with four goals between the two teams. The aggregate score fell in River’s favor, though, who won 3-1 on the day.

Boca Juniors created the majority of chances in the first half. Allowing River to maintain the majority of possession, they sat back and waited for the counter-attacking opportunities.

The first goal of the game came in the 44th minute. Cristian Pavón and Pablo Pérez set up Nathaniel Nández to break through River’s defense. Nandez slotted through striker Darío Benedetto, who cut through a challenge from River defender Jonatan Maidana, and slipped the ball past goalkeeper Franco Armani into the bottom-right corner.

Benedetto was subbed off in the 62nd minute, marking a turning point in their play. As Boca lost their sharpness, Juan Quintero was subbed on for River.

Five minutes after entering the game in the 67th minute, River striker Lucas Pratto found the back of the net from the penalty spot. Midfielders Ignacio Fernández and Enzo Pérez won the penalty after a slick one-two in the box.

Regular time ended in a draw as the game slowed down on both sides.

A chaotic extra time came to life abruptly in the 92nd minute when Boca’s holding midfielder Wílmar Barrios saw his second yellow card after a late two-footed tackle on Exequiel Palacios.

With Boca, a man down and primarily relying on their defense, space opened up for River to exploit. Quintero capitalized in the 109th minute to give River the lead.  His sublime strike from the corner of the penalty area made it past goalkeeper Esteban Andrada’s hands.

Gonzalo Martínez sealed River’s victory in the final minute of the match. Gambling to find an equalizer, Boca sent their goalkeeper forward for a corner kick, leaving their goal unprotected. Martínez picked up the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and ran it the length of the field into an empty net.

After two thrilling matches, the longest aggregate tie in South American history came to an end. The matches captured some of the rawest aspects of Argentine soccer — passion, violence, flair — and drama beyond the bounds of 90 minutes.