It might be the most tainted Copa Libertadores of all time and one that the rest of South America simply wants to forget but for River Plate it will be an eternal victory as Los Millonarios put a month of drama and squabbling behind them to defeat fierce rivals Boca Juniors and lift the famous trophy in Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
That controversial change of location was enough to put many off but following the 2-2 first leg draw in La Bombonera and the regrettable yet enthralling soap opera that the suspended second leg brought with it, all eyes were on Madrid for a historic evening.
River as a result of CONMEBOL’s punishment and decision to take the second leg to Madrid had lost their advantage and it was Boca Juniors who enjoyed the better of a scrappy, imprecise first half. Just as it looked as though the two sides would be heading back to the Bernabéu changing rooms goalless, Boca broke and a superb through ball by Nahitan Nández released Darío Benedetto, who cut past Jonathan Maidana and beat Franco Armani.
Ahead for the third time in the tie, Boca knew that River would improve after the break. Marcelo Gallardo’s side well below par during the first 45 minutes would look to change things and as the balance had begin to tilt it was after the introduction of talented Colombian Juan Fernando Quintero that River were given that slight attacking edge.
A fine passing move saw Nacho Fernández burst into the Boca box after 68 minutes and his cut back was swept in by former Boca striker Lucas Pratto, cancelling out the lead just as he did a month ago in La Bombonera.
Neither side could find a winner in normal time and with no away goals rule in the final, this already epic saga went into its final act.
Minutes after the restart and Boca were dealt a severe blow when influential midfielder Wilmar Barrios saw red for what was deemed a two-footed lunge on Exequiel Palacios and the question that remained was whether Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side could hold out.
They couldn’t and it was Quintero who proved decisive. The Colombian received the ball in a pocket of space on the edge of the box, took a touch and smashed a fierce shot in off the underside of the crossbar.
Ahead for the first time in the tie, River were now defending and knew that chances would come on the counter with Boca immediately pushing for an equaliser with goalkeeper Esteban Andrada joining the attack for corners with seven minutes or so still remaining.
Such a bold move almost paid off even when Fernando Gago succumbed to yet another achilles injury as Leonardo Jara volleyed against the foot of the post but eventually Andrada’s gamble back-fired. With seconds remaining, the Boca keeper was stranded and River broke away for Gonzalo Martínez to race clear and roll a third into the empty net.
It’s not been pretty and has hardly been reflected South American in a good light but after generations of rivalry, this River victory will be one that supporters will talk about for another 100 years.