By John Wilkinson/beIN SPORTS
“The losing team would take 20 years to recover.”
Macri – once the president of Boca before running the whole nation – knows more than your average politician about the stakes of the Superclasico. And of course, that one was special.
The saga of the 2018 Libertadores final is well known by now: it was the first time the two eternal rivals had met in the final for the continent’s most coveted trophy. It was the last final set to be played over two home-and-home legs, meaning no matter who won, they could always say they had won the last Copa Libertadores final of its kind.
And that was before all the baggage heaped on it – a second leg postponed by fan violence aimed at the Boca bus outside El Monumental, moved to Madrid and eventually won by River in extra time more than a month after the tie had started.
“We feel great sadness for the people and for all those who accompanied us in this period of 50 days since the end of this final,” Boca Juniors manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto said afterward. “They have always supported us, filled the stadium, accompanied us to the highway.
“For me I feel a huge pain and more for the people.”
Barros Schelotto – who won four Libertadores titles in 10 years as a Boca player – said that it made him “sick” not bringing the Copa back to the people of Boca.
While Barros Schelotto has moved on, Boca have earned a chance at redemption – at least some shred of it – less than a year later. So much for that 20-year sentence.
Of course, a semifinal victory can’t wipe away River’s win in the historic final, but with the way Los Millonarios have dominated the rivalry as of late, Boca need this.
Boca have not beaten River in their last five Libertadores meetings (three losses and two draws) and haven’t won any match against their rivals since Nov. 5, 2017. The clubs have met at various stages in the 2014 Copa Sudamericana, the 2015 Copa Libertadores, and the 2018 Copa Libertadores. River went on to win all three competitions.
A win in either semifinal leg – Tuesday at El Monumental or Oct. 22 at home in La Bombonera – would be a sweet way for Boca to snap those streaks. Win across both legs and Boca get another shot at their seventh Libertadores title, potentially matching the all-time record help by Independiente of Argentina.
Over these two semifinal legs, Boca have a chance to either dull the pain of last year’s loss or twist the knife again.
How They Got Here And What To Watch For
The club parted ways with Barros Schelotto shortly upon returning to Argentina from the 2018 final in Madrid and he later took over the LA Galaxy. Argentina international winger Cristian Pavon – who started both legs of the 2018 final – eventually followed his manager to MLS during the summer transfer window.
Still, this season’s Boca – now led by Gustavo Alfaro – boast plenty of continuity and familiar faces. Carlos Tevez is not a guaranteed starter, but regularly figures for the hometown club that he helped win the Libertadores in 2003. Boca made a splash by signing Daniele De Rossi in the summer, but a recent injury looks set to keep the Italian out of the Superclasico semifinal.
Despite scoring 17 goals in 10 matches, the Boca attack has been mostly by committee and some questions could linger about where the goals will come from in these big matches.
Mauro Zarate has four goals in the competition, second most of any player remaining, but hasn’t found the back of the net since the group stage. Dario Benedetto – who scored two of Boca’s three goals in last year’s final – was their second-leading scorer in this year’s competition but he has departed for Marseille in Ligue 1.
Alexis Mac Allister has contributed a goal and two assists in four Libertadores matches, while Emanuel Reynoso and Ramón “Wanchope” Ábila each have a pair of goals in the competition. Abila is on the mend from an injury, but played a half in Boca’s most recent league match.
The defense has been standout for Boca. They have not allowed a goal in all four of their Libertadores knockout-stage matches, the four-match shutout streak being their second-longest ever in the competition.
They allowed six goals in the group stage, but those all came in three games, with Boca keeping shutouts in the other half of their group matches.
Boca finished atop Group G with 11 points (3W-2D-1L) and a plus-5 goal differential. They have since made easy work of their knockout round opponents.
In the Round of 16, Boca were drawn against the team that finished second behind them in Group G, Athletico Paranaense. Boca won 1-0 on the road in the first leg and then killed the tie with a 2-0 win at home in the second leg.
Boca played much to the same script in the quarterfinals. They went on the road and effectively ended the tie in the first leg with a 3-0 win at altitude in Quito. A lock down 0-0 draw at home in the second leg was more than enough to send them through safely to the semifinals.
Boca arrive in the semifinals on a stellar run of form domestically as well. They sit atop the Argentine Superliga, undefeated in their first eight matches (including a 0-0 draw at River). Their last loss came in mid-August when they went out of the Copa Argentina Round of 32 on penalties.
If the expected intensity of the Superclasico wasn’t enough to interest you, Boca have shown a flair for the dramatic during the 2019 Libertadores. Boca have scored the most goals in the second half (13) and in the final 15 minutes (6) of matches during the 2019 competition.