Derby matches, held between two rival soccer clubs hailing from the same or neighboring towns, are often steeped in intense anticipation. Last week, several derby matches were held in the English Premier League that showcased world-class exhilarant soccer. Such matches have an even more passionate following in Latin America, the place where soccer transformed into the beautiful game. Now, imagine if the final of the Copa Libertadores – the most prestigious club competition in South American soccer – was contested between two rival clubs. That is indeed what happened, as the 2018 edition of the tournament pitched River Plate against Boca Juniors – both hailing from the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. River Plate emerged victorious over two legs of the final in one the longest and controversial soccer matches of all time.
The first leg of the final was hosted at the home ground of Boca Juniors on 11th November, where the match ended in a 2-2 draw. As both sides went into the second leg two weeks later with an equal chance of winning the competition, an attack on the Boca Juniors bus by River Plate fans had to delay the event. Several Boca players suffered cuts from broken windows, and many others – including former Manchester City and Juventus striker Carlos Tevez – suffered dizziness and vomiting from the tear gas sprayed by the police. After an appeal to disqualify River Plate from the competition was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), the match was scheduled to held at the mecca of club soccer, Santiago Bernabeu, home of Spanish giants Real Madrid.
While the decision was criticized by players and pundits, it also gave an opportunity for the Argentinian population residing in Spain to witness the match. Many South American and European soccer players playing in European clubs also decided to attend the match, as Boca Juniors looked to winning their first Copa Libertadores since 2007. They started the match in high spirits, as captain Pablo Pérez brought out a save from Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani. However, Armani couldn’t do much as Dario Benedetto evaded Plate’s defenders to give Boca Juniors the lead in the 44th minute.
However, the introduction of Juan Quintero in half-time changed the game in favor of River Plate. In the 68th minute, Lucas Pratto provided the finish to an exquisite move to equalize the score. The match that couldn’t be completed in Argentina also didn’t finish at the end of 90 regulation minutes, as both teams went into extra time. In the second half of extra time, Quintero smashed the ball brilliantly off his left foot into the corner of the net, giving River Plate the lead. As 10 men Boca were reduced to bits, they fought on till the end, as Leonardo Jara hit the Plate post in the 120th minute. The resulting corner was their last chance to extend the game into penalties, however, a quick counter-attack by Plate forwards gave them a 3-1 lead and clinch the 2018 Copa Libertadores title.
As River Plate fans celebrated in the Spanish capital, Boca fans were in tears at the outcome of the game – which they would believe had been snatched away from them. The fact that a major South American tournament final was played in Europe will surely be a talking point in years to come, but for now, let’s applaud the performance of River Plate that granted them the victory.