River Plate through to third Copa Libertadores final in five years

Despite being 1-0 losers in La Bombonera, River Plate were worthy winners of this breathless Superclásico encounter over two legs.

In their quest to overturn River’s two-goal first leg advantage Boca Juniors submitted their rivals to relentless pressure. This mostly took the form of muscular challenges, long balls and deep crosses tormenting and stretching the opposition back line. Boca finally made the breakthrough they needed on 80 minutes. A beautiful curled ball in from the right from Zarate (on for Almendra) found Lopez at the back post who headed across into a wave of oncoming blue shirts. It was the Venezuelan substitute, Hurtado, on for the dogged but not totally match-fit Albio, who spanked it over the line from about six inches.

That forced River to endure a nail-biting last ten minutes as the home side continued their tactic of launching the ball into the penalty area and hoping to win the knockdowns. In the end though, both River’s quality on the ball and Boca’s lack of it was enough to ensure that the better team progressed to the final in a month’s time against either Gremio or Flamengo.

It took a little while to get started in Buenos Aires after the pre-game ticker tape and toilet roll party from the rabid home support. Various caretakers with leaf blowers were called to try and clear the pieces of white paper that had come raining down from the stands and covered three quarters of La Bombonera’s turf.

16 minutes after the scheduled kick-off time we were underway and as predicted Boca Juniors threw the kitchen sink at the visitors early on. Spurred on by the deafening ‘La Doce’,  most of whom had arrived at least an hour and a half before the match, Boca put ball after ball into River’s box and ended up having 21 shots on goal but, crucially, only 5 on target.

It was frantic stuff from Boca Juniors but they produced very little of quality as River weathered the early storm. The stadium erupted on 22 minutes when they thought Salvio had poked home from 8 yards after another Mac Alister cross had been headed down. But the goal was immediately disallowed for a clear handball from Emmanuel Mas.

River had another scare just before half-time when Enzo Perez tried to clear yet another cross. He couldn’t sort his feet out quickly enough and ended up slicing it toward his own goal but Armani was quick to push it over the bar.

The first half was frantic but devoid of too many clear cut chances for either side.

Boca started the second as they had the first and Albio was put through one on one with Armani after 30 seconds but he couldn’t convert.

Like they had done in the first half, the visitors started to get a foot on the ball after 15 minutes and make Boca chase them. They only had one shot on target however, on a scrappy night which saw 48 fouls and eight yellow cards but that won’t matter a jot to Marcelo Gallardo, who has now steered his team to a third Copa Libertadores final in five years. A quite remarkable achievement.