Two of Argentina’s biggest clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate contest in one of the fiercest rivalries in world football when they come across each other in the South American nation’s domestic competitions. But this time, it will all take a whole new level when the ‘Superclasico’ takes place in the final of the Copa Libertadores and many expect the fixture to wreak havoc across the country!
If you thought El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the biggest and most intense football rivalries in the world, wait until you hear about the Superclasico! It is contested between two Argentinean clubs — Boca Juniors (that boasts of having had players like Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta and Juan Riquelme) and Club Atletico River Plate (notable players include Alfredo di Stefano and Hernan Crespo).
And it’s absolutely mental — so much so that riots break out on the Buenos Aires streets before, during and after the Superclasicos and the players and managers have to be escorted by armed policemen even inside the stadiums. The two have battled it out hundreds of occasions in the contest’s 105-year history, but the fixture guarantees to stir the blood of Argentine football fans in each of its arrivals.
So, why does everyone think the 2018 Copa Libertadores final will be a completely different Superclasico from the ones that the world of football has witnessed so far. We list out five possible reasons.
1. This will be the first time a Superclasico will decide the South American champions.
Consider the El Classico between Barcelona and Real Madrid with the winner taking home the UEFA Champions League trophy! And even that wouldn’t do justice to the emotions that will be riding on this fixture in Argentina. For a group of countries obsessed with football, the Copa Libertadores is the biggest prize that their favourite clubs can ever win.
And when the two biggest clubs from Argentina make its final, it is sure to create tremors across Latin America. While the teams have met in the continental event before, this will be the first time that they will compete in a final to challenge for the trophy. River Plate booked the ticket for the final after a controversial 2-1 win over defending champions Grêmio of Brazil.
The Argentinians had lost at home 1-0, but qualified on the away goals rule after a VAR-awarded penalty in the fifth minute of 14 minutes of added time (Yes, you read that right!), which led to the referee Andres Cunha requiring protection from the armed police! Meanwhile, Boca also overcame Brazilian opposition in Palmeiras whom they defeated 4-2 on aggregate in the semis.
The first of the two legs of the final will now be played on November 10 at La Bombonera, Boca’s home, followed by the second leg three weeks later at the El Monumental on November 24. CONMEBOL are getting rid of the two-legged final of the Copa Libertadores next season and what better way to say farewell, one would think!
2. Their last meeting in Copa Libertadores didn’t go down well!
The last time the two teams met in the Copa Libertadores was in 2015 in a Round of 16 tie. That day, Boca fans made a hole in the players’ tunnel and pepper sprayed the River Plate players, putting four of them in a hospital (Yes, you read that right too!). The match was called off at 0-0 and Boca were disqualified.
River Plate went on to win that year’s competition, their third and most recent triumph. Videos showed River players Leonardo Ponzio and Leonel Vangioni rubbing their eyes, with their teammates pouring water over their faces after being sprayed with an irritant. “I can’t see, I can’t see. I am burning. This is not a war,” said River defender Ramiro Funes Mori during the chaotic scenes.
But that wasn’t by any means an isolated incident in the Superclasico because violence has been prevalent in their clashes so much so that away fans are not allowed to attend matches. So, the La Bombonera for the Copa Libertadores final will be filled 100% with Boca fans and vice-versa — as is the custom in Argentine football these days.
3. Even the President of Argentina didn’t want the match to happen.
“I do not want a Boca-River final,” said none other than Argentina President Mauricio Macri in the build-up to the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores. “The truth is that I want a Brazilian win so that we may not have the final because it will be three weeks without sleep. It’s going to be too much pressure. And the losers will take at least 20 years to recover. It will be a final that will have a lot to play for,” he had said.
The politician, who was also once the president of Boca Junior, said this aware of the implications such a clash would create on the nation, but his wish hasn’t been fulfilled fortunately or unfortunately!
“I said it because I already have stress because of my work. Now, I have to add the stress of a final as well. I preferred a final between an Argentine and Brazilian clubs. But we are now going to have a historical ending that may never repeat again for a long time. So, let’s enjoy this unique opportunity,” said Macri appealing for “peace and harmony” among the two clubs’ supporters whatever the result be.
4. Argentina simply doesn’t have enough resources to police the millions
It is estimated that more than 70% of Argentina’s football fans support either Boca or River — meaning that a major portion of the country will be glued to the happenings around the matches on November 7 and November 28. And for a country that is going through one of its worst economic crisis in modern times, many believe it will exhaust the country’s resources to maintain a peaceful environment in the country for the three weeks between the two legs of the final.
And it wouldn’t just require deploying double the number of police forces for the matchdays, but also keeping in control the huge masses everywhere in the country at the same time. For a nation that has a problem with football hooligans who have close connections with organised crime, it looks like a very worrying prospect — especially if things take a turn for the worse during the 180 minutes of football action.
5. The two have history – more than a century’s worth!
The first Superclasico was played on August 24, 1913 — more than 105 years ago and it has only grown in stature since then. Like many football rivalries, the Superclasico also has its root in the class system. While Boca hail from the economically backward regions of Buenos Aires, River moved from the same region to a well-off location sometime early in the 20th century to evade a breakout of yellow fever.
The rivalry has come to represent a variety of things over the years — the rich versus poor sometimes. The north vs the south of the city at other times. But when the the two iconic clubs in South Amercian clubs go head-to-head twice in the space of three weeks this month, one could only hope all the talk will be surrounding football and nothing else!