Except for a brief pause when an Argentine submarine was found in the Atlantic one year after it disappeared with 44 crew members, Saturday’s final has been the biggest news in Argentina. Even a summit of leaders from G20 nations has been eclipsed by the historic superclasico.
On Thursday, Boca fans overcrowded the 49,000-seat La Bombonera just to watch a training session. There will be no visiting fans at River’s stadium because of Argentina’s anti-football violence legislation.
Players, however, have kept a lower profile, without the traditional provocations.
River has reasons to be optimistic. Not only did the team fight back from 2-0 down in the first leg, it has also lifted its three Copa Libertadores titles at home.
River coach Marcelo Gallardo, who has won one Libertadores as a player and another as a coach, is still considering his starting lineup after losing suspended striker Rafael Santos Borre and injured target man Ignacio Scocco.
But he has a spine to work from: Goalkeeper Franco Armani, who played for Argentina in the last World Cup; veteran defenders Jonatan Maidana and Javier Pinola; captain Leonardo Ponzi and midfielders Gonzalo Martinez and Exequiel Palacios, who will leave the club at the end of the year.
Boca also has question marks before the final. The goalkeeper will be either Agustin Rossi or Esteban Andrada. Right back Leonardo Jara did not leave a good impression in the first leg and could be replaced by Julio Buffarini.
While Gallardo has been busy finding replacements, Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto — who won the tournament three times as a player — has the luxury of deciding which striker to leave out. If he can’t count on winger Cristian Pavon, he can choose from Carlos Tevez, Mauro Zarate, and Colombians Edwin Cardona and Sebastian Villa. He also has Dario Benedetto and Ramon Abila, who scored Boca’s goals in the first leg.
Boca relies on its strikers, who have 14 of the team’s 15 goals in the knockout stage.
Boca fans trust in their tradition of winning the Copa Libertadores away, as they have in four of the clubs’ six titles.
If there’s another draw on Saturday, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the draw persists, the trophy will be decided by penalties. Next year, the Copa Libertadores final will be played in a single match.
The winner advances to the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates next month.
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