1. It’s difficult to overstate the intensity and importance of the 2018 Copa Libertadores Final between Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate on and off the field. This is the first time they’ve met in the final of South America’s top club competition (and only the third time two sides from the same country have met in the final). Boca have won the tournament six times, River three times. The two clubs account for 70% of football fans in Argentina. Like the best football rivalries, each side represents contrasting philosophies and economic boundaries permeating throughout society. No away supporters will be allowed in opposing stadiums for either leg, such are the stakes.
  2. In sporting terms, there’s a view that Argentine soccer careers are defined more by big losses than trophies and successes. Jorge Valdano, fresh off criticizing Gareth Bale, repeatedly laments how Argentine domestic football is centered around a mentality of not losing rather than winning.
  3. Boca manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto chose to celebrate the occasion for Argentine soccer, saying that the the two clubs meeting in the final has made up for the national team’s failures.
  4. Marcelo Gallardo, who’s managed River to their most successful period in their 117 years, is banned from the sideline for both matches. Actually, he was banned from the sideline for the second leg semifinal against Gremio but purposely broke the rule to deliver a half time team talk and delivered instructions through a walkie-talkie to assistant Mathias Biscay. It was worth that extra ban and $50,000 fine as his side came back with two goals in the last twenty minutes of the match, including the deciding penalty from Pity Martinez in the 95th minute. 
  5. Of course, a match with these stakes wouldn’t go smoothly. Due to a torrential downpour leading to puddles on the field, the match was delayed for one day.
  6. The match has a MLS angle. Both Gallardo and Barros Schelotto played in the league, and each has been rumored to one day return as manager. Barros Schelotto has been linked to the LA Galaxy, although is now the supposed front runner to take over after Tata Martino at Atlanta United. Atlanta have also earmarked Martinez as Miguel Almiron’s replacement. Boca goalscorer Dario Benedetto is also rumored for a LA Galaxy move this offseason. On the European continent, 20 year old River midfielder Exequiel Palacios is linked to a move to Real Madrid or Manchester United. 
  7. Boca Juniors line up in a 4-3-3 with Benedetto and club legend Carlos Tevez on the bench. River Plate opts for a 3-4-1-2 formation with Martinez in the playmaking role ahead of last summer’s World Cup star Juan Quintero.
  8. The opening of the match has been filled with turnovers and fouls from each side, with neither able to find any rhythm into the match. Martinez gets the first good chance of the match off a free kick. Lucas Martinez then blows an open header off the ensuing corner.
  9. Martinez and Palacios are looking especially dangerous for River in possession, occupying their respective half spaces and sending in potential through balls behind Boca’s backline. Regardless, it is a nervy opening 15 minutes with little quality and little in the way of chances.
  10. Boca Junior’s most dangerous moments have come from individual, one on one moments from Cristian Pavon and Abila on the wing.
  11. Real Madrid transfer update: Palacios puts in so much work in the buildup phase moving in and out of River’s right half space. It’s not fancy, just quick and efficient. Although we should credit Gallardo’s setup for giving Palacios (and Martinez) those spaces to create in both receiving ball to feet and with off ball movement.
  12. Pavon pulled up grabbing his hamstring and is eventually subbed off for Benedetto. It’s a huge loss for Boca’s attack with much of their play coming from Pavon’s ability to beat defenders on the wing.
  13. Speaking of strikers, Lucas Pratto has been excellent in his movement and dribbling into Boca’s backline. But still, River’s inefficiency in front of net has shaped this opening half. 
  14. Boca opens the scoring. The focus will be on Abila’s blast for the goal, but Boca’s buildup from their right wing through the middle and into the left half space was all one touch and quick movement. River keeper Franco Armani probably feels he could have done more to push Abila’s shot wide, but it was well struck. That goal is the pin that we needed to break this tension.
  15. Immediately after the ensuing kickoff, and with Abila still celebrating, Martinez puts Pratto through for River’s equalizer. How Pratto reshaped his body to generate enough power on the ball moving away from goal is pure technique.
  16. Leonardo Jara receives the game’s first yellow card with a tackle on Martinez in the 37th minute.
  17. Boca keeper Agustin Rossi comes up with his first big save of the match off a Martinez volley from Pratto’s cross. River are destroying Boca Juniors’ high line with through balls and they could have three or four goals this match.
  18. Benedetto strikes with a gut punch right before half time to put Boca in front. And Benedetto won the free kick as well. In continuing the MLS theme, Benedetto was once a target of the Portland Timbers.
  19. The first half started nervously but picked up with electricity and goals after Abila’s strike. Yet River will think they could, and should be winning this match.
  20. Boca open the second half sitting back and invite River with possession. River look like they’re pressing with sloppy passes and inability to create any real penetration into Boca’s box.
  21. Boca defender Carlos Izquierdoz scores an own goal off a free kick to level the match once again. It was a needless foul some 40 yards away from goal, similar to Boca’s first half goal, and River got bailed out by that mistake as they were lacking ideas.
  22. It’s Boca’s turn to build up play through Wilmer Barrios, Pablo Perez and Nahitan Nandez working channels and half spaces on their right side. They are looking to open up space for a diagonal cross for Benedetto.
  23. Carlos Tevez comes into the match to create something in the final 20 minutes. Tevez immediately draws a yellow card challenge from Borre, who will miss the second leg. Juan Quintero comes on for Martinez.
  24. Both backlines sitting back for much of the second half as play has slowed down.
  25. Palacios disappeared for a stretch of the second half as River Plate gave up possession, but his quality on the ball and in the build up phase is undeniable.
  26. Boca get one final chance as Tevez gets free in the 90th minute and squares the ball to Benedetto. Armani absolutely makes a match winning save.
  27. Tevez then ends the match receiving a yellow card for his behind the ball tackle.
  28. The first half belonged with River. The second half belonged to Boca. River have the slight advantage in taking the draw back home. From that sense, we are exactly back to where we started heading into this match: history and legacy are still on the line.