JONATHAN SHALLARD in MADRID —- River Plate are not only the new club champions of South America, they are the Superclasico champions of the continent.
The Millonarios triumphed 3-1 after extra time over Boca Juniors in Madrid’s Estadio Bernabeu to win the Copa Libertadores Final 5-3 on aggregate. Boca, who had begun faster and stronger, finished with only nine men because of injury and expulsion.
The duel will go down in football history as the Buenos Aires Superclasico to top them all. Dario Benedetto shot Boca ahead just before half-time only for Lucas Pratto to level in the 69th minute and send the match into extra time. Boca were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of Wilmar Barros and River capitalised with goals from Juan Fernando Quintero and Gonzalo Nicolas Martinez.
The rain-delayed first leg last month had ended in a 2-2 draw in Boca’s Bombonera in Buenos Aires. Boca had failed only on Friday with an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the Madrid replay decision of South American confederation CONMEBOL. Boca will certainly now continue to press their claim.
River, by contrast, will look forward to contesting the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates later this month.
The original second leg of the Copa, in River’s Estadio Monumental two weeks ago, had been called off amid hooligan chaos after Boca’s team bus was ambushed on its route to the ground.
Confusion was exacerbated by angry fans bursting into security zones in the stadium and threatening Boca officials and visiting FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
No other South American country rushed to rescue the game as River and Boca squabbled over blame. Hence CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez turned to Real Madrid in the Spanish capital which has the largest community of expatriate Argentinians.
More than 3,000 security personnel were on duty for a match which, whatever it lacked in quality, made up in intensity.
River centre back Jonatan Maidana sliced over his own goal in the opening exchanges but, from the right-wing corner, unmarked Pablo Perez shot straight at keeper Franco Armani.
When River replied midfielder Ignacio Fernandez was high over the bar from a left-wing corner but Boca were playing the more urgent football. Perez had a shot deflected for a corner after a free kick before they took the lead in the 43rdminute.
River had failed badly when presented with a poor clearance by Boca keeper Esteban Andrada and their sloppiness proved doubly costly. Boca broke back to fatal effect for the nimble Benedetto to skip clear through the centre and shot low past Armani’s left hand.
River were a different team after the interval, finding new energy and dominating possession. Boca took off Benedetto but the attempt to shore up midfield proved a failure as Lucas Pratto equalised in the 68th minute after the finest move of the match.
Boca appeared increasingly fatigued as the match headed towards extra time. Worse befell them when Wilmar Barrios was shown a second yellow card and thus red by Uruguayan referee Andres Acuna for stamping on Exequiel Palacios. River capitalised by seizing the lead with a thrilling strike from Colombian substitute Quintero.
Boca raised one last gallop. Armani saved well to a low drive from Fernando Gago who then limped down the tunnel, leaving his team with nine men. Goalkeeper Andrada was stranded upfield – shades of Manuel Neuer at the World Cup – when man of the match Martínez ran half the length of the pitch to score River’s third goal with the last kick of the game.