Take Barcelona-Real Madrid, Manchester United-Liverpool, the New York Yankees-Boston Red Socks and any other famous sporting rivalry you care to think of, add them all together, multiple it by 100 and you get somewhere close to the significance of this year’s Copa Libertadores final.
Boca Juniors versus River Plate – the Superclásico – is already one of the most famous and most fierce rivalries in the world. A game that grinds Argentina to a halt each time the two giants meet and one which the entire world knows for its unparalleled passion and atmosphere.
And how can you make this rivalry even greater? Chuck in the biggest prize in South American football. The Copa Libertadores is an obsession for every club in the continent, none more so than Boca Juniors and River Plate, and for the first time in the final’s history it pits the two old foes against each other.
Only twice before in the 58-year history of the Copa Libertadores have two sides from the same country met in the final – both all-Brazilian encounters – and for the first time in the 105-year history of the Superclásico, Boca and River clash at this stage.
There have been finals – Boca edged out River in 1976 to lift the Nacional championship and River celebrated victory in the Supercopa Argentina earlier this year.
There have been meetings in the Copa Libertadores – the pepper spray attack at La Bombonera three years ago, Carlos Tevez’s famous chicken celebration in 2004 and a Juan Román Riquelme inspired victory in 2000.
But never a final. Nothing can compare to a Copa Libertadores final.
The victors will be immortalised and the losers will be reminded of this match for generations.
When and where?
Boca host the first leg at the iconic Bombonera on Saturday November 10th with kick off at 5pm local time before the teams head to El Monumental for the second leg on Saturday November 24th.
After much toing and froing over the dates and times amid security fears, league opposition and a plea to the jewish community that was eventually agreed.
There will be no away supporters at either game despite president Mauricio Macri initially stating that the event was too historic to miss the opportunity and instead Argentina’s visiting fan ban will still be in place.
The last time before CONMEBOL switch the final to a one-off game at a neutral venue, Boca Juniors could inflict the ultimate wound by celebrating their record-equalling seventh Copa Libertadores in front of the River supporters at the Monumental.
The form guide
Boca stumbled through the group stage in second behind Palmeiras but have been formidable in the knockout stages, winning each home leg by two goals to nil and exacting revenge on Palmeiras in the semi final.
The back-to-back Argentinian league champions are struggling somewhat in the league as Guillermo Barros Schelotto has had difficulty getting the most from his second string but the Libertadores has always been the priority.
What Boca may lack in an identifiable system or an ability to adapt to different situations they make up for in individual quality. Darío Benedetto proved this against Palmeiras but the likes of Cristián Pavón, Sebastián Villa, Mauro Zárate, Ramón Abila and Carlos Tevez are all potential match winners and in Colombian Wilmar Barrios, Boca have one of the standout midfield players in South America.
River Plate conversely cruised through top of their group before battling their way to the final. The tactically astute Marcelo Gallardo navigated River past Racing Club and Independiente with goalless draws in the away first legs (a result that wouldn’t be beyond comprehension on Saturday) before coming back to defeat Grêmio in Brazil and progress to the final on away goals.
Gallardo’s antics in defying his coaching ban somewhat overshadowed the performance and left River waiting on CONMEBOL’s disciplinary commission. And while some may argue that Los Millonarios got off lightly, the absence of Gallardo at La Bombonera and his touchline ban from the second leg may yet be significant.
The most recent league meeting was a 2-0 win for River in La Bombonera and considering Gallardo’s River edged out Boca en route to lifting the 2014 Copa Sudamericana, the 2015 Libertadores and the recent Supercopa, it is fair to suggest there could be a psychological advantage.
Boca Juniors probable XI: Agustín Rossi; Leonardo Jara, Carlos Izquierdoz, Lisandro Magallán, Lucas Olaza; Nahitan Nandez, Wilmar Barrios, Pablo Pérez; Cristian Pavón, Sebastián Villa, Wanchope Ábila
River Plate probable XI: Franco Armani; Gonzalo Montiel, Jonathan Maidana, Javier Pinola, Milton Casco; Exequiel Palacios, Enzo Pérez, Bruno Zuculini, Pity Martínez; Rafael Santos Borré, Lucas Pratto
This game is almost too big to comprehend. Will the action on the pitch live up to hype? Most likely not but with the world watching, a spectacle like no other will unfold over these two matches. Whatever happens – good, bad and everything in between, this is a moment in history and should be savoured.