The 210 Minutes Of Football In The Libertadores Final Were Truly Spectacular
Get the best email in soccer.
It’s taken 39 days and two reschedules (one due to rain, the other due to violence ) — and of course we ultimately needed extra time — but we finally have a champion of the Superclásico Copa Libertadores final: River Plate, a wild 5-3 on aggregate.
After the 2-2 first leg back on Nov. 11, River defeated Boca Juniors 3-1 after extra time at the Santiago Bernabéu to earn South America's ultimate prize. Throughout the two legs, the football never disappointed. Today's final was decided by three exceptional goals — Dario Benedetto scored a deserved opener for Boca, but River fought back via a wonderful team goal finished by Lucas Pratto and a crack from Juan Quintero.
River’s third was scored on an empty net by Gonzalo Martinez after Boca keeper Esteban Andrada come forward for a corner at the death.
The spectacle itself obviously looked a lot different at the Bernabéu. We swapped a mid-70s afternoon in Buenos Aires for a 50-degree evening in Madrid, and instead of having 66,000 packed into el Monumental in full voice an hour before kick-off, the Bernabéu filled up slowly apart from the opposite corners of the ground which housed the most vocal of Boca and River support.
The atmosphere outside the stadium was a little more relaxed than the Argentina capital.
And inside, the players marveled at the change of scenery.
But this was still a Superclásico and a Copa Libertadores final, despite elements of the “most costly friendly in history” (as Boca legend Juan Roman Riquelme called it) seeping in the background.
Diego Simeone was there. Mauro Icardi was in the building. James Rodriguez! Angel Correa! Jordi Alba! Javier Zanetti! Leonardo Bonucci! Paulo Dybala! Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin!
— ESP Football (@ESPFutbol_en) December 9, 2018
MESSI WAS THERE!
Loooooooool River and Boca fans are gonna spend the whole game looking at Messi lmaooo pic.twitter.com/eSe7OGgRdS— mx (@LioMessi10i) December 9, 2018
— ŮMęŘ (@UT170204) December 9, 2018
The first half finally got under way, and it was all Boca Juniors. Boca twice went close to opening the scoring…
…and in the 44th minute, Benedetto finally provided the finish after a brilliant pass from Nahitan Nandez to put Boca up 3-2 on aggregate.
Benedetto celebrated by giving Gonzalo Montiel some kind of look.
But River’s influence in the match grew in the second half with Quintero replacing Leonardo Ponzio in midfield. Pratto had a penalty appeal waved away in the 56th minute, but the striker made no mistake with his opportunity in the 68th.
This was a goal of the highest order from River — especially the pass from Exequiel Palacios to release Ignacio Fernandez in the box. Back to 3-3 on aggregate.
Neither side could find the winner inside 90 minutes, and we went to extra time.
But two minutes into proceedings, Boca’s Wilmar Barrios collected his second yellow card of the night and handed the initiative to River.
But the first half of extra time passed without further incident. Penalties loomed…
Then, a flash of lightening and a crack of thunder — Quintero’s thunderbolt kissed the underside of the crossbar to give River the lead in the 109th minute.
Martinez scored the third and River captured its fourth Copa Libertadores title. It should be one hell of a party, but River must also now prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup — they'll play a semifinal match on Dec. 18.