1. Two weeks after its initial November 24th date and almost a month after the opening leg match, the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors is finally here. The sentiment in the buildup to that initial second leg was that, without overstating it, it was not only the biggest match in Argentine club history, but the biggest match in Copa Libertadores history.
  2. That was before the infamous tear gas attack on the Boca Juniors bus that left players heaving and sent Pablo Perez to the hospital. The ensuing controversy of if, when, and where the match would be played became its own story. It was delayed for a couple hours, then finally postponed until the next day, then postponed even further. Boca wanted River kicked out of the competition and awarded the trophy outright. Finally, as the match was moved to the Santiago Bernabeu, the change in venue over six thousand miles away bursted the immediacy and intensity of that initial experience.
  3. Before the final, Boca manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto discussed how the match, despite its intensity and rivalry, is ultimately a celebration of the Argentine domestic game. Instead, the world was introduced to incompetence, chaos, and shambolic organization, with Schelotto adding that “we are talking about violence instead of what the teams have achieved this season”. In moving the match to Spain, Carlos Tevez remarked that “they took our dream of playing the final in our country”. Gallardo agreed, saying “they’ve robbed the fans”. But there was resignation among supporters as well, with some saying that the match should have been moved to Madrid so people can “watch the game without fighting”.
  4. Each side got an allotment of 25,000 tickets, although only 5,000 were given to fans inside Argentina. The entire sequence highlights the importance of how sport - and the individual moments that arise out of a game and burn inside of a supporter’s memory - can shape public spaces.
  5. Back to the on-field preview: there is still everything to play for, with the match tied 2-2 on aggregate. Boca are lined up in a 4-3-3 with Cristian Pavon returning after getting injured in the first leg. Dario Benedetto gets the nod at striker. Gallardo, banned from the sideline with assistant Matias Biscay taking over, had to juggle his lineup into a 4-5-1 with strikers Ignacio Scocco injured and Rafael Santos Borre suspended on yellow card accumulation.
  6. The match begins uptempo, under an impressive atmosphere at the Bernabeu. Pity Martinez, rumored to be bound for Atlanta, helps River establish early possession.
  7. Meanwhile, Pavon is dangerous in transition for Boca with his speed and movement.
  8. After a good spell of Boca possession, Jonatan Maidana almost sends a ball into his own net. Perez gets the first good shot on goal off Boca’s ensuing corner
  9. River have calmed down the match with possession. Real Madrid target Exequiel Palacios’ ability to increase the tempo in possession is impressive to watch as he’s conducting much of his side’s possession through the right half space.
  10. Nahitan Nandez gets fouled on top of the box after his high pressure causes a mistake from River. Leonardo Ponzio receives the first yellow card of the match. Benedetto takes the ensuing free kick which falls to Perez, who again misses a good chance.
  11. A camera pans to a crowd shot of Messi. Antoine Griezmann is in a Boca jersey. Diego Simeone is in attendance, as well as a large contingent of Juve players.
  12. The first controversy for Boca: Perez receives a yellow card for stepping on Enzo Perez’s ankle.
  13. Benedetto opens the scoring during an end-to-end sequence consisting of: Boca keeper Esteban Andrada clearing a ball right to River whose lose the ball but quickly regain it and miss a cutback cross. Perez regains and loses possession that is then picked up by Nandez in transition. Nandez hits an inch perfect through ball to Bendetto, who leaps a defender then finishes his breakaway. River end the half threatening Boca again. That goal was exactly what the match needed.
  14. There are no changes for either side to start the second half. River come out on the attack as expected and get an early corner kick. Ignacio Fernandez and Lucas Pratto continue to threaten with quick 1-2’s on top of the Boca’s box.
  15. Juan Fernando Quintero, aka the 2018 Riquelme, comes on as River desperately look for a goal. Benedetto comes off for Ramon Abila.
  16. Quintero immediately begins pulling strings, creating a header for Pratto.
  17. Pratto then finally, finally gets River’s equalizer. The entire interplay between Fernandez, Quintero and Pratto, starting in River’s right half space in their attacking third, featured movement, one-touch passing, and quick changes in tempo. There was nothing Boca could do about that.
  18. River are controlling the second half with the ball.
  19. Boca receive an indirect free kick inside of River’s box. It’s a weird call as Nandez was tripped inside of the box. The wall does its job on the ensuing free kick.
  20. Wilmar Barrios, rumored for a Tottenham move, gets a yellow card in dragging down Martinez at mid-field.
  21. Perez is subbed off for Fernando Gago and throws off his captain’s armband in frustration.
  22. This match was always going into extra time, as it ends 1-1 in regulation. As if the stakes aren’t high enough, it is now even more a match of nerves and bravery.
  23. Well there it is. Barrios gets his second yellow card and is sent off in the 92nd minute. Boca will be playing a player down for the next 28 minutes. They sub on an extra midfielder in Leonardo Jara and revert to a 4-3-2 formation.
  24. As expected, this is one way traffic for River following the red card. Quintero is absolutely running this match. For Boca, and especially without the physicality of Barrios beside him, Gago is having difficulty calming down the match.
  25. On cue, Quintero scores off a pinpoint left footed shot from outside the box. Tactically, Barrios may have occupied that space or at least challenged Quintero after the Colombian received the ball. As it was, Gago was late in recognizing the danger, although that’s not why he’s on the field.
  26. Boca come back down immediately after and almost force an own goal. Carlos Tevez comes on.
  27. Gago, out of nowhere, hits a vicious, curving strike that takes a deflection. This is desperation times for Boca. Gago then leaves the field injured, making it 9 on 11 for the rest of the match. Boca keeper Andrada has basically moved to midfield.
  28. In one final move, Boca hit the post in the 120th minute out of a long ball resulting in one last corner. Tevez receives a yellow card as he battles for position in front of River’s net.
  29. And what a way to end the match, and the final. With Andrada inside the box for the corner kick, Martinez receives River’s clearance at midfield and taps the ball into an open net. River win 3-1. That was an incredible match for the neutral.
  30. Again as a neutral, that second leg more than lived up to the expectations with its intensity, individual technique, attacking sequences, and drama. The match turned significantly with Barrios’ second yellow, and there was only one result from there. But still, that Quintero strike is one for the YouTube year-end compilations.
  31. One wonders how this would have gone, this exact match with this exact ending, if played at River Plate Stadium as scheduled. But in the face of skepticism, the atmosphere at the Bernabeu, in front of the Messis, Griezmanns and Simeones, did lend the final its own energy. Whereas the first leg of the match ago drew the world’s attention to Argentina, in this context, Argentina brought their game to the world.