And so it comes to this. The 2-2 draw in La Bombonera leaves no more room for second chances and one way or another on Saturday, the history of world football’s most famous rivalry changes forever. Tom Nash returns to preview the match of the ages…
The sense of excitement and anticipation is building in Buenos Aires, as in just a few days either River Plate or Boca Juniors will win the historic superclasico Libertadores final and be crowned South American champion for 2018.
The world was treated to a great spectacle last week in the opening match of the final, and with the tie delicately poised at 2-2, there are several factors which mean we could see a different second leg.
In terms of personnel, River will regain one key player, and also lose one.
Captain Leo Ponzio is now fully recovered from the hamstring tear he picked up in the semi-final in Brazil and is training for the game of his life on Nov 24th.
It’s an exaggeration to say this final will define his legacy, as “The Lion” has already lifted a whole range of trophies with River, including the Libertadores itself in 2015. Nevertheless, it does give him the chance to go down in history as arguably River’s most successful captain ever. On the verge of his 37th birthday, he will never play a game this big again.
Another player River hoped to recover was Ignacio Scocco. He pulled his calf vs Estudiantes on Nov 3rd and will not recover fully in time. River were optimistic he would be fit for the big day but must now prepare alternatives. His presence would have been a massive boost for his team, as he has been arguably the club’s best outfield signing in the last couple of years.
[Parte médico] Ignacio Scocco: lesión muscular en gemelo derecho. pic.twitter.com/Cydv7ko3Sn
— River Plate (@CARPoficial) November 21, 2018
Scocco’s fitness took on extra significance after the 75th minute of the first leg. That was the moment River’s in-form Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borré was booked and therefore suspended for the second leg. Having scored in the closing minutes of the last 16 tie, the quarter-final, and the semi-final, his goalscoring instinct will be hugely missed by his team.
With Scocco and Borré now both out, Gallardo will have to look to his third and fourth choice striking partnerships. Far from ideal on such a big occasion.
On the opposing side, Boca Juniors must also come to terms with a huge loss.
Star striker Cristian Pavón tore a hamstring in the first leg, and the 13-day gap between the two games makes it almost impossible for him to recover in time.
Cristian Pavón: desgarro isquiotibial izquierdo. pic.twitter.com/xq80DLfs3F
— Boca Jrs. Oficial 🏆🏆 (@BocaJrsOficial) November 12, 2018