Boca Juniors have looked far from potential Copa Libertadores champions in recent weeks, their surprise Copa Argentina exit to lower league opposition last week had generated concern and a trip to altitude for a quarter-final against Liga de Quito was a banana-skin well within the realm of possibility.
Any doubters were proved completely wrong though on Wednesday evening as Gustavo Alfaro’s side produced one of their best performances to blow away their Ecuadorian opposition.
It was perhaps a game ideal for the pragmatist Alfaro, one in which Boca could soak up pressure and remain compact, but that should take nothing away from the team and the individual performances of Nicolás Capaldo, Alexis Mac Allister and centre-forward Ramón Ábila.
The away goal was always the target for Boca ahead of next week’s second leg back at La Bombonera and it took just eleven minutes for the Xeneizes to achieve that. The outstanding Mac Allister thread a pass between the two Liga de Quito centre-halves and Ábila dashed clear to round Adrián Gabbarini and roll in the opener.
A potential set-back saw Mauro Zárate limp out soon after but the forward’s injury proved to be something of a blessing in disguise with Emanuel Reynoso replacing him and immediately giving Boca greater balance. The 23-year-old, rejuvenated under Alfaro, more comfortable operating on the left and the extra space centrally left for Mac Allister to pull the strings.
Another marauding Wanchope run came within a whisker of a second and Boca’s first half finished even better when Jefferson Orejuela was shown a straight red for a studs-up challenge on Reynoso.
Reynoso was fit to continue and just as well. Two minutes after the break the former Talleres playmaker produced a wonderful free-kick, whipping it with pace over the wall and into the corner with Gabbarini barely able to move before the net bulged.
Two-nil up against ten men, Boca were cruising and as if that weren’t enough of an advantage, Alfaro’s side added a third for good measure. Esteban Andrada’s long boot downfield set off Ábila and as he outmuscled Luis Caicedo, his shot cannoned back off the goalkeeper to rebound in off the forlorn defender.
Only a collapse next week in La Bombonera would deny Boca a place in the Libertadores semi-final and depending on how River Plate fare against Cerro Porteño on Thursday, that potential Superclásico edges closer.
— CONMEBOL Libertadores (@Libertadores) August 22, 2019