Friday, June 14, 2024

SPORTS | 19-04-2023 23:45

Boca find relief in Libertadores, River recreate domestic form

Victory places Boca's Libertadores quest back on track, but the Xeneize were not the only team in desperate need of a win this week.

When does a push become a hold? Will Boca Juniors, Independiente or Racing Club ever win another Liga Profesional de Fútbol match? How on earth did Godoy Cruz and Lanús become the most exciting teams to watch in the whole of Argentina? And can anyone stop Martín Demichelis and River's inexorable march to the title? Perhaps even more pertinently, does anyone even want to?

Those philosophical dilemmas were left behind to ponder from a weekend that, aside from the eight-goal thriller in Mendoza played out by the aforementioned unheralded pair above, was as underwhelming as it was controversial. The Avellaneda clásico stood out only for a contentious penalty that allowed Racing to grab a point against their beleaguered neighbours – a call which led millions to scour the rulebooks and grainy photos of the action to determine whether or not the foul in question was committed inside the box; whatever one's opinion, the fact of the matter is that the 1-1 draw did neither win-starved team many favours.

Those discussions aside, the paucity of actual football on display was evident. Going into the final two games of the round, just nine goals had been scored in the preceding 12, an anaemic strike-rate which was thankfully offset somewhat by Monday's explosive finish. It was sweet relief to many, then, that midweek attention turned to international matters, as Argentina's Copa Libertadores contingent convened for the second week of group matches. The competition is quickly becoming a fairytale journey for the nation's best performers to date, Argentinos Juniors, who made it two wins out of two with victory over mighty Corinthians to mark a historic Wednesday evening for the little club from La Paternal. For Boca, meanwhile a small slice of redemption to break the prevailing doom and gloom.

The Xeneize went into Tuesday's clash against Deportivo Pereira winless in four games, the most recent a home surrender to Estudiantes in new coach Jorge Almirón's first taste of the Bombonera bench. His second outing appeared to promise little better. Jimer Fory fired the Colombians into the lead in front of an indignant home crowd, who exercised the standard repertoire of derogatory chants befitting any under-performing side. Luckily for Almirón and Boca, however, there was still some fight left from the unlikeliest of sources.

A Luis Advincula rocket levelled proceedings with just a minute left of regular time, after Pereira had seen their second of the evening ruled out. Then, closing in on 100 of play, Alan Varela popped up to hit only his third goal in Boca colours, heading home a stunning cross from teenage left-back Valentín Barco. Victory placed Boca's Libertadores quest back on track after a subdued start and, perhaps more importantly, won Almirón valuable breathing space as he attempts to solve the puzzle of why one of Argentine football's most expensively assembled squad has fallen so noticeably short so far in 2023.

Boca were not the only team in desperate need of a win this week. Despite their domestic dominance River struggled for breath in their Libertadores season opener as The Strongest inflicted a bruising 3-1 defeat in the heights of La Paz. Things did not exactly look much more promising upon taking the field on Wednesday, either. Cristal struck with just six minutes played at the Monumental, and while Nicolás de la Cruz and Ezequiel Barco turned the table, a subsequent red card and Cristal equaliser left the Millonario tied at 2-2 and struggling at half-time in front of an expectant Monumental crowd. The transition to continental football has not proved easy so far for Demichelis' charges, especially the defence: having conceded just five in 12 Liga Profesional matches, the last of which came in February, they reached the same figure in just a game and a half of Group D.

But there is a certain steel to this River team which allowed them to escape adversity. Barco and Pablo Solari hit after the break to give the hosts a commanding lead which this time they refused to relinquish, sealing their first points in the competition. A huge match looms in a fortnight against Rio giants Fluminense which might go a long way towards deciding who advances from the group in first place, but the Millo at least demonstrated that they are more than capable of replicating their stunning league form across South America when they put their minds to it.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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