Buenos Aires Times

sports COPA LIBERTADORES

Boca-River clash seizes news agenda as Libertadores showdown nears

Except for a brief pause when the ARA San Juan was found in the Atlantic, almost one year to the day after it disappeared with 44 crew-members onboard, Saturday's final has been the biggest news in Argentina for over a month.

Friday 23 November, 2018
Boca Juniors fans attempt to enter the La Bombonera, ahead of an open training session at the club's stadium.
Boca Juniors fans attempt to enter the La Bombonera, ahead of an open training session at the club's stadium. Foto:Juan MABROMATA / AFP

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One day everyone in Argentina will say they were there.

That is the case for Diego Maradona's professional debut, and the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina, won by the host.

This time, it's the Copa Libertadores final on Saturday at the Monumental, where Boca Juniors and River Plate face off in a winner-takes-all second leg. Three weeks ago they drew 2-2 at La Bombonera, but away goals won't matter in the second leg.

Except for a brief pause when the ARA San Juan was found in the Atlantic, almost one year to the day after it disappeared with 44 crew-members onboard, Saturday's final has been the biggest news in Argentina for over a month. Even the upcoming G20 Leaders Summit seems to have been eclipsed by the historic Superclâsico.

On Thursday, Boca fans overcrowded the 49,000-seat La Bombonera just to watch a training session. There will be no visiting fans at River's stadium because of anti-football violence legislation.

Players from both sides, however, have kept a lower profile, without the traditional provocations.

River has reasons to be optimistic. Not only did the team fight back from 2-0 down in the first leg, it has also lifted its three Copa Libertadores titles at home.

Coach Marcelo Gallardo, who won one Libertadores as a player and another as a coach, is still considering his starting line-up after losing suspended striker Rafael Santos Borre and injured target man Ignacio Scocco.

But he has a spine to work from: goalkeeper Franco Armani, who played for Argentina in the last World Cup; veteran defenders Jonatan Maidana and Javier Pinola; captain Leonardo Ponzi and midfielders Gonzalo 'Pity' Martínez and Exequiel Palacios, who will leave the club at the end of the year.

Boca also has question marks before the final. The goalkeeper will be either Agustín Rossi or the returning Esteban Andrada. Right back Leonardo Jara did not make a good impression in the first leg and could be replaced by Julio Buffarini.

While Gallardo has been busy finding replacements, Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto — who won the tournament three times as a player — has the luxury of deciding which striker to leave out. If he can't count on injured winger Cristian Pavón, he can choose from Carlos Tevez, Mauro Zarate, and Colombians Edwin Cardona and Sebastián Villa. He also has Dario Benedetto and Ramón Ábila, who scored Boca's goals in the first leg.

The Xenieze rely heavily on their strikers, who have 14 of the team's 15 goals in the knock-out stage.

Boca fans trust in their tradition of winning the Copa Libertadores away, as they have in four of the clubs' six titles.

If there's another draw on Saturday, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the draw persists, the trophy will be decided by penalties. Next year, the Copa Libertadores final will be played in a single match.

The winner advances to the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates next month.

By Deborah Rey, AP

Op-Ed

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