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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

Match of the Century: Copa Libertadores Final Preview

When speaking of world-class rivalries, the Red Sox vs the Yankees, the Celtics vs the Lakers and Barcelona vs Real Madrid come to mind easily for any casual sports fan. However, one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports is between the two largest soccer clubs in Argentina: Boca Juniors and River Plate.

This Saturday, the two most renowned soccer teams in the Americas will face off in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final to claim continental supremacy. This match has been labeled by pundits and fans as being on par with the World Cup final itself, and therefore the result will effectively decide the superior side of this rivalry in the eyes of the world.

The rivalry between these two sides transcends the undeniable talent and magic that is displayed on the pitch when these two clubs meet. These two Argentine sides have historically represented the rift between social classes in Argentina.

Boca Juniors’ home of La Bombonera is located in the working class districts of Buenos Aires, while River Plate’s stadium is situated a few kilometers away in the wealthier areas of the Argentine capital.

The ferocity and passion displayed by their respective fans, often fueled by the underlying societal grudge between both clubs, is recognized across the continent and around the world. Both teams’ longstanding international success in South America’s most important continental competition has also made these two teams famous across the continent.

This cup final is a culmination of a struggle for supremacy by both clubs in the 21st century. Throughout the 2000s Boca Juniors asserted their dominance by winning numerous domestic cups and four Copa Libertadores titles.

They earned two intercontinental cups after facing the champions of Europe in the years 2000 and 2003. Boca Juniors were able to defeat the Real Madrid Galácticos as well as an AC Milan squad with the likes of Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, and Rivaldo. Boca’s last Copa Libertadores trophy came in 2007, and despite sporadic domestic success, their preeminence has faded in recent years.

While the first decade of the 21st century belonged to Boca Juniors, the last five years have unequivocally belonged to River Plate.

Following a humiliating relegation to the Argentine B division in 2011, the legendary club from Buenos Aires made an astonishing meteoric rise back to the top of both domestic and international competitions. In the last four years, River Plate has won several international tournaments including the Copa Libertadores in 2015.

At the domestic level, River Plate has decimated opponents under the tutelage of their coach Marcelo Gallardo, raking up titles with ease. According to many fans and pundits, this current River Plate generation is one of the greatest in the history of South American soccer.

In this year’s Copa Libertadores, both River Plate and Boca Juniors have reaffirmed why they are the two biggest clubs in the Americas. With a dynamic display of pass-oriented buildups and quick transitions into the attack, River Plate has been lauded as being the team with the most attractive brand of soccer in the continent.

In stark contrast to River Plate’s style of play, Boca Juniors eased their way into the final by playing a direct, vertical style of soccer focused on individual talent and effectiveness in front of goal. When faced with some of the strongest sides in the continent, Boca Juniors has always found to put up goals in large quantities due to their incredibly effective forwards.

On Saturday, these two contrasting teams will face off in a match that will certainly not disappoint. The first leg of the final ended in a 2-2 draw at Boca Junior’s stadium La Bombonera, where both teams delivered a match full of emotion, exciting soccer, and goals.

With the away-goal rule being eliminated for the final, the tie between these historical rivals is finely poised for anyone to win. Going into the last 90 minutes of this matchup, River Plate seems to hold the upper hand due to the psychological boost of playing at home and are optimistic that they will walk away victorious.

However, Boca Junior’s success when playing away from home during this campaign has been remarkable, and their faithful supporters are also confident that they can get a positive result on Saturday. With such tense historical and social factors behind this great rivalry, a defeat on Saturday for either team will leave a wound that will never heal.

-Pablo

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