After what seemed like an eternity of postponements, River Plate have won the Copa Libertadores 2018 5-3 on aggregate with a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over arch rivals Boca Juniors at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium on Sunday.
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A Juan Manuel Martínez goal at the death and a smart finish from Juan Fernando Quintero clinched the game in extra time, after Lucas Pratto canceled out a Dario Benedetto opener for Boca in a high-temp game that had been postponed after River fans ambushed the Boca team bus ahead of ‘the biggest derby in world football’, forcing the game to eventually be rescheduled for December 9 in the Spanish capital.
After possibly the most drawn-out build up to a match in recent history – the first leg of the derby took place almost one month ago at Boca’s La Bombonera home in Buenos Aires, ending 2-2 – a first-half goal from Dario Benedetto was leveled by Prato in the second half, before goals in extra time from Quintero and then Martinez into an open net as Boca searched for a goal with every player inside the River area.
The derby was originally scheduled to take place on November 24, but River fans ambushed the Boca team bus as it headed to River’s El Monumental stadium, injuring the team’s players and forcing it to be postponed by 24 hours. The rescheduled date was again postponed amid a complaint from Boca, who even demanded they be crowned champions without a final match.
After a meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay, the South American football federation CONMEBOL decided to move the fixture to Spain on grounds of “equality” and to avoid any repeat of the ugly scenes that postponed the original tie, forcing many fans to watch the match from afar, with those not traveling to Spain crowding around TVs on the streets of the Argentine capital.
A host of Argentine footballing royalty attended the match, including Paulo Dybala, the already legendary Lionel Messi and former La Albiceleste captain Javier Zanetti, both River and Boca fans flooded the Spanish capital.
Gracias @conmebol por este Palco de Honor para ver la #GranFinal.
Grandi emozioni…in questo corridoio, a metri da dove seduto, ho il ricordo più bello della mia carriera!!! 🏆
Que sea una fiesta para el fútbol!!
Súperclasico al Bernabéu 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/wQbwYAZb4P
— Javier Zanetti (@javierzanetti) December 9, 2018
When the match finally kicked off, the tempo of the game matched the white-hot atmosphere at the home of the current European champions, Boca having the best chance of the first 30 minutes when a poorly hit free kick from Dario Benedetto bounced off the wall and fell to Pablo Perez, whose deflected shot looped through the air goal-wards and seemed to be heading in, but sailed agonizingly past the post.
Around ten minutes later Boca pushed forward again. A cross from Sebastian Villa was beaten away by an airborne Franco Armani, triggering a River counter up the other end of the field.
Despite an intense start, it took until the one minute mark for either side to find a breakthrough, when Benedetto was played through with an exquisite upfield pass from Nahitan Nandez, and a deft touch to break free from the last defender and hone in on goal, slotting in the opener on 44 minutes.
Benedetto then wheeled away to celebrate, falling to his knees in front of the Boca fans, but not before poking fun at River defender Exequiel Palacios, sending the football fraternity on Twitter into meltdown.
After the restart the action continued with the momentum seeming to favor River, who eventually found a leveller through Lucas Pratto, the 30-year-old equalizing against the club with which he began his career to send their bitter rivals and the red and white contingent of the Bernabeu into raptures.
Boca were awarded two free kicks in quick succession in the final 10 minutes, the first was an indirect free kick on 80 minutes inside the River area but Lucas Olaza couldn’t find a way past the wall from around 12 yards. The second, a minute later, sailed over the bar from range from Villa.
Neither side could find a winner in normal time, and in the absence of any away goals rule, the match was once again drawn out even further went into extra time.
Extra time ended after only a couple of minutes for Wílmar Barrios, who was handed a second yellow card for a poorly-timed lunge on an already grounded Palacios, with replays suggesting the referee made the correct decision.