From Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid:
River Plate 3-1 Boca Juniors (River wins 5-3 on agg)
43' Benedetto (0-1)
68' Pratto (1-1)
92' RED CARD to Barrios (Boca)
109' Quinteros (2-1)
122' Martínez (3-1)
River wins its 4th Copa Libertadores, adding this triumph to their 1986,
1996 and 2015 ones.
So, there it is. The Copa Libertadores 2018 final has been finally played.
Two islands of great football surrounded by an impressive sea of royal
screw-ups. This was the final of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The Good was the football itself. In fact both legs were worthy, the first
more so, but the second was good too IMHO, in front of a crowded Santiago
Bernabeu. We had a few nice golaços: Benedetto's, a fulminating counter-attack,
a dribble that had Maidana tackling the wind and a clinical finish; Pratto's,
a quick combination play involving him, Fernandez and Palacios; Quintero's, a
nice placed shot at Andrada's upper left corner.
And Martínez's, well, the goal itself was not that special, seeing as it was
a run without any defenders towards an unguarded net. But that was the side
of the pitch where Boca fans were. It must have made for a hell of a picture,
a lonely River forward charging towards goal facing a wall of Boca Juniors
fans who were just waiting for the inevitable coup-de-grace. Surely some
photographer has caught it on camera adequately.
Indeed, as Martínez charged on, I was kinda expecting to see a Boca fan invading
the pitch to try to avoid the goal. Wouldn't have been out of character given
what we've seen in this final so far :-)
Trivia: having scored in both legs against Palmeiras and then doing the same
to River, Benedetto is only the second player to have scored in all legs of
the semis and the finals of a Libertadores edition. The other one was Raul
Vicente Amarilla, for Olimpia, in 1989.
More trivia: while for River fans the win over Boca surely eclipses all others,
for them there's also the sweet note of having knocked out of the way two other
big rivals, Racing in the second round and Independiente in the quartefinals.
Had they gotten San Lorenzo in, say, the semis, they'd have completed a sort
of "All Rivals Grand Slam".
Boca fought very hard and almost pulled a draw near the end of the game, two
men down, to take the thing to penalties. It would have been heroic by them,
but it wasn't to be. River, otoh, was a very resilient side: three times they
were behind over this tie, twice they got the draw and once the comeback.
Which goes to show that, when they focus on the football, Argentinians can put
up one hell of a show.
The Bad: FIVE dates for two games, and the way Conmebol handled itself over
the tournament. Be it on player registration issues, or trying to make Boca
play at El Monumental after the attack on their bus, or the failed postponements,
or the auction they conducted for the site of the second leg of the final, the
confederation hardly covered itself in glory this time around, has it?
And The Ugly, of course, was the bus stoning in Buenos Aires. That was ugly
enough on its own. Coupled with the events in Rio de Janeiro in the 2017
Copa Sudamericana final, Conmebol has now the perfect excuses to justify its
decision of single leg finals on neutral venues - or, more precisely, on venues
chosen in advance, most of which should be neutral. Conmebol says the 2019
final will be held in Santiago (or was it Lima?), but I don't put it past them
to play the thing in Miami, Los Angeles, Doha or London soon enough. Here's
hoping I'm very wrong on this one.
Which leads us to the damning indictment against the South American football
decision makers, that they were unable to host a game of this magnitude in the
continent - and then go and do it in Madrid, of all places. Perhaps they
should be reminded why the Copa LIBERTADORES da America has the name it has.
The main point is that the game should have been held in South America. In
fact, I think they could have done it in Argentina, even if not in Buenos Aires
Well, whatever. At least we got some good football. Now River goes straight
from Spain to the UAE now for the Club World Cup. It'll be strange if they
lose: would that be a cold shower over the celebrations for the Libertadores
win when they return to Buenos Aires? Fundamentally, is the CWC bigger than
this victory's magnitude? For once I'll agree with the point many Europeans
make in this forum yearly: I don't think so, indeed I think that as long as
they don't do anything silly such as, say, losing by seven, then celebrations
should be on anyway. The CWC would be one hell of a cherry on the cake, but
in this context it would seem that the main course has already been served.
But people's mileage may vary.
And sure, they can avoid this debate by actually beating Real Madrid in the
final, but even as unstable as Real looks right now, the gulf between Europe
and South America in club football is still quite large. Well, we'll know