- River Plate 3-1 Boca Juniors (aet; 5-3 on agg)
• Pratto 68 Quintero 109 Martínez 120 | Benedetto 44
Sid Lowe at the Bernabéu- The Guardian
It may be marked with an asterisk and there could be more chapters to come in this extraordinary story, soaked in symbolism, sport and society, drama and emotion too, raw and exhilarating to the last, but River Plate are the Copa Libertadores winners – clinching a title they and Boca Juniors, their great rivals from across Buenos Aires, always knew would be forever.
The game that would never end, reached the very, very end. “It’s been almost 60 days since this started and there is tremendous sadness,” said the Boca manager, Guillermo Schelotto. With 120 minutes gone and River 2-1 up, he watched as Leonardo Jara hit the post, the tension clawing at nerves as never before. That left Boca with one last chance: a corner the referee seemed determined to delay, as if clinging to this game, not wanting to let it go, and their goalkeeper Esteban Andrada in attack where he had been for seven or eight minutes already. It also left them exposed.
As Boca desperately sought salvation, some miracle, suddenly River were racing away. Gonzalo Martínez raced up the pitch, no one between him and an empty goal. So sure were River of the goal that as he ran one way, his teammates ran every which way, celebrating already; from the bench they ran too, staff on the pitch, hearts racing. Boca’s players, meanwhile, crumpled on to the turf. By then there were only nine of them out there, one man sent off, another walking off injured and in tears, the rest exhausted physically and emotionally.
A wonderful goal from Juan Quintero, the game’s outstanding player, had put River ahead and Boca on the edge of the abyss, the darkness of a defeat that is for ever; now they tumbled into it.
One-nil up, they had been beaten 3-1 in an extraordinary occasion getting an astonishing finish. The legal challenge on this game going ahead, Boca appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, might suggest further battles to come, an attempt to annul this result and anaesthetise their pain, but Schelotto insisted: “For me, it’s over. River won.”
They won 5-3 on aggregate, the never-ending match finally ending, two weeks late, 6,248 miles away, at the fifth attempt and in the last second of extra time. It had taken a month, amid biblical storms, violence and arguments, politics and ambition. The first leg finished 2-2 on 10 November; before the second Boca’s bus was attacked, windows smashed with bricks. Players vomited and were taken to hospital, glass shards in eyes, tear gas in their throats. It was put back an hour, then another, then another, to a backdrop of conflict, police charges and violence, until Conmebol announced it would be held the next day.
It was not. A postponement became something a little more permanent; although the match was to be played, the idea the trophy should be left without a winner dismissed, pressure applied and politics appearing, it was taken out of River’s Monumental stadium, out of Buenos Aires and South America. The trophy, named after the continent’s liberators, was handed over in the capital of Spain.
In crossing the Atlantic it was inevitable it would change, an event attended by players from Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid, over 72,000 people but too few of those who were supposed to have attended it. There were, though, fans from both teams – unusually, given that in Argentina away fans are banned between these teams – and plenty of noise, if little of the paraphernalia: no ticker-tape or fireworks, less of that wildness that helps make it attractive – that untamed quality.
There was something of that in the way it was actually played, though. Every inch was fought for, a permissive Peruvian referee allowing it. Once or twice it made one wince. No quarter would be given. There was little flow and chances were few at first, even though ultimately all four goals were impressive.
Most of the early opportunities fell to Boca. Pablo Pérez, the captain with the eye patch a fortnight ago, had the best, first denied by Franco Armani, then seeing a deflected shot squirm wide. Armani then prevented Sebastian Villa’s cross reaching Dario Benedetto but the River keeper could do nothing when Benedetto came running towards him to open the scoring superbly. From Boca’s bench they ran to join him in the corner, the noise shaking the stadium.
River responded, particularly after the introduction of Quintero. They were denied a penalty 10 minutes into the second half when Andrada clattered into Lucas Pratto but the momentum built and Pratto provided the finish to a lovely move involving Nacho Fernández and Exequiel Palacios to equalise.
And so it went on, even longer. Extra time came. All that and it came down to this. Penalties seemed inevitable and while that wasn’t to be, there was drama. Boca were reduced to 10, Wilmar Barrios sent off, and River turned the screw, 18-year-old Julián Álvarez flashing the best of three shots over before Quintero smashed a brilliant shot in off the bar.
Boca were in bits but they chased and chased to the last, fighting until they could do no more, something almost admirably primitive in it all: in the effort, the emotion, and the final run of an extraordinary month until Martínez was all alone in Madrid, a long way from home yet exactly where he would have dreamed of being, an empty goal opening before him and before the eyes of the world.