There are few tougher competitions in world football than the Copa Libertadores and for a while on Wednesday evening pre-tournament favourites Boca Juniors were heading for an early exit. They still might, with their fate on the final day out of their hands, but for now Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side can still reach the last 16 after a draw against Junior in Barranquilla.
It could have been far worse as another poor performance by the Argentine champions could so easily have been punished in the closing stages and defeat would have spelled an embarrassing elimination.
Carlos Tevez provided the game with a little extra spice even before kick-off by ignoring former River Plate striker Teo Gutiérrez during the handshakes but with so much at stake the match needed no added drama.
After a pretty poor opening, the game came to life just after the hour mark when Ecuadorian referee Roddy Zambrano spotted a non-existent trip on Marlon Londoño. Agustin Rossi tipped Luis Carlos Ruiz’s penalty onto the post but the ball rolled back to the forward to tap in the rebound and at that point send Junior through and Boca out.
Shortly after half time there was some sense of justice when Zambrano awarded Boca a soft free-kick out on the right and Cristian Pavón’s whipped in delivery flew off the head of goalscorer Ruiz and into the net.
Victory would have meant Boca were in control of their fate but it was Junior that looked the more likely winners with Teo Gutiérrez blazing over a glorious opportunity and only the final ball eluding the Colombian side.
Boca will be confident of beating Alianza Lima in La Bombonera in two weeks but must hope that group winners Palmeiras don’t lose to Junior.
Junior 1 – 1 Boca Juniors
Independiente were also in a precarious spot after a less than impressive start to their Copa Libertadores campaign but secured an invaluable win over Brazilian champions Corinthians in São Paulo.
Ariel Holan switched to a 3-4-3 allowing Fabricio Bustos and Juan Sánchez Miño to get forward far more as wing-backs and the combination of Argentina World Cup hopefuls Bustos and Meza down the right immediately caused problems for the home side.
El Rojo led inside two minutes when Meza broke free down the right, squared the ball for Silvio Romero and although goalkeeper Cássio saved with his feet, Martín Benítez was on hand to tap in from close range.
Corinthians were on the back foot and it was almost two soon after when a Bustos cross was deflected onto the crossbar by Fabián Balbuena. However, Independiente didn’t need to wait long and it came via a Corinthians player, Maxi Meza’s inswinging corner flicking off the head of Angel Romero and into the net.
Romero did make amends when he slipped in Jadson to reduce the deficit after half an hour but Independiente should have restored their lead before the break. Alan Franco headed in a third only for Peruvian referee Víctor Carrillo to rule it out for an infraction that still wasn’t clear even after several replays.
A somewhat scrappy second half saw Corinthians see plenty more of the ball but fail to test Martin Campaña a great deal and when Emerson Sheik was sent off two minutes after coming on, it seemed to end any hopes of a Brazilian comeback.
Independiente held on for a deserved win in what is now an incredibly tight Group G. El Rojo travel to Colombia to face Millonarios in two weeks, without the suspended Maxi Meza, where another away win would surely guarantee a place in the last 16.
Corinthians 1 – 2 Independiente
While Boca Juniors were touted as possible winners, many would have tipped Atlético Tucumán to fall at the first hurdle. El Decano aren’t in the last 16 yet but with victory over Peñarol took a step towards the knockout stages.
Back-to-back wins over The Strongest had revived Atlético’s hopes but a deserved win on Wednesday means that a point away to Libertad would be enough, even if Peñarol beat the Bolivian side.
Both sides had chances in the always electric Estadio Monumental José Fierro but the points were won just before the hour mark. Atlético broke and Leandro Diaz cut inside the final defender to drill the ball low past Kevin Dawson.
Defeat in Asunción in two weeks along with a Peñarol win would see Atlético drop into the Copa Sudamericana but Ricardio Zielinski’s side can taste the last 16 and will be desperate to make that historic landmark.