Preview: Boca & River meet with spot in Final on the line

La Bombonera, one of football’s mythical temples, plays host to the second leg of the Superclasico semifinal between Boca Juniors and River Plate on Tuesday night in Buenos Aires.

River hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg earlier this month, an advantage that they hope will stick following what is sure to be a spirited 90 minutes at La Bombonera. Boca face the catch-22 of needing to attack to overturn an aggregate deficit, but also possessing the knowledge that a single away goal for River would require them to score 4 times on the night to go through. 

At minimum, Boca must score twice, and keep a clean sheet, to force penalties. Scoring a third opens up the possibility of advancing to the final without penalties, but keeping a clean sheet is surely high on the list of objectives for Boca manager Gustavo Alfaro. 

In the first leg, Boca were opened up quickly, and with ease, by Gallardo’s River. Within the first 10 minutes the hosts had won, and scored, a penalty at El Monumental. That early goal surely scuttled the plans of Alfaro, and it seemed to throw Boca off their game. Another early on in La Bombonera would make the task quite tall indeed. 

Because of those concerns, Alfaro must balance selecting a side whose mission is to trouble River extensively on the night with not leaving his defense susceptible to counters from River’s pacey attack. Esteban Andrada will get the start between the sticks, with the defense in front of him expected to consist of Julio Buffarini, Lisandro López, Carlos Izquierdoz, and Emmanuel Mas. In the midfield, expect to see Eduardo Salvio, Iván Marcone, Agustín Almendra, and Alexis Mac Allister. Those nine are fairly certain of securing spots in the initial Boca XI. The questions come in attack. Alfaro possesses a wealth of options, but faces a critical decision in selecting a pair to start up top. Mauro Zárate and the Venezuelan Jan Hurtado look to have the edge, but Carlos Tevez and Ramón Ábila, each dealing with injuries, are under consideration as well, as is Franco Soldano. Should Tevez and Wanchope miss the initial XI, each are expected options off the bench for Alfaro if his side are chasing late. 

River manager, Marcelo Gallardo, is blessed with not only a 2-0 aggregate advantage, but a nearly clean bill of health for his squad. An unchanged XI from the first leg was confirmed by Gallardo in a Monday press conference, but Juan Fernando Quintero, back after 7 months injured, and Lucas Pratto, are both expected to be options off the bench. 

Quintero could prove to be Gallardo’s ace up the sleeve. The remarkably talented Colombian returned to action recently, and should River find themselves up against it in the second half, his unmatched ability to pick out a pass could end up making the difference.

On the other side, Boca’s difference maker may well prove to be their crowd. La Bombonera is a sight to behold. Its legend looms large throughout the history of South American football. If Boca were to complete the comeback, in front of their home fans, against their fierce rival, it would go down in the history of not only the Libertadores but football worldwide. 

Should River’s advantage hold, even through only a draw or loss Tuesday night, it would extend an impressive string of dominance to three consecutive Libertadores knockout advancements, including the title last year. Furthermore, it would mean yet another final appearance for Gallardo, further cementing Gallardo’s spot in the history of the club and the continent. 

Thus, a spot in the Final is the primary objective for both sides at La Bombonera, but not the only thing at stake on Tuesday. It’s one of the world’s greatest derbies, set to be played on one of its biggest stages, in a stadium whose place in history is nearly unrivaled. The only thing that’s certain is you won’t want to miss it. 

Boca Junios - River Plate, CONMEBOL Libertadores Semifinal Second Leg: October 22nd, 21:30 (ARG).