So the pattern of River Plate’s season goes on – as does their recent record against their most hated rivals. Battered 4-1 away by Argentinos in midweek, they played the champions of South America off the pitch back in the Monumental on Sunday, to such a convincing extent that the crowd (and the fans I was watching the game with from an Argentine bar in Seville) were greeting each pass with ‘¡olé!‘ by the end. Naturally, River will lose their next away game. But in a rivalry which for many fans is more important than the league title itself, to win in this fashion almost makes it worthwhile.
The match started two hours earlier than the super normally does, due to the Argentine rugby side’s World Cup quarter-final with Scotland later in the day (they won, by the way). But River seemed ready all the same, tearing out of the blocks early on and putting Boca firmly on the back foot. Daniel Passarella went with an insanely attacking setup – a front three of Radamel Falcao García, Ariel Ortega and my man-of-the-match Diego Buonanotte, with Fernando Belluschi pushed in just behind them and Leonardo Ponzio, signed as a midfielder, playing at centre-back.
Boca went with their tried and trusted 4-3-1-2, with Leandro Gracián pulling the strings behind Rodrigo Palacio and Martín Palermo. But when a corner was poorly cleared midway through the first half, and Oscar Ahumada sent the ball back in, a delightful interchange saw Belluschi volley a pass into the path of Falcao who, unmarked, smashed the ball past Mauricio Caranta for the first.
A few minutes later Buonanotte was brought down by Caranta in the area and the resulting penalty, taken by Ariel Ortega, was saved by the Boca ‘keeper. The linesman, however, had spotted that Caranta was closer to his six-yard line than the goal line when Ortega took the kick, and the referee ordered a re-take. Caranta guessed the opposite way, but Ortega went the same way as before and the lead was doubled.
When the scheduled red card (without which a superclásico just wouldn’t be a superclásico) arrived on the stroke of half time, Ever Banega seeing a second yellow for a very clumsy tackle on Buonanotte in the midfield, it was obvious that Boca were struggling as severely as any side who’ve visited the Monumental this season. After the break Miguel Angel Russo countered Banega’s absence by introducing Diego Battaglia in the number 5 role, but to do so he withdrew playmaker Gracián. It looked like an admission that Boca weren’t going to create much either way, so may as well limit the damage as much as possible.
And so it proved. The second half was slower than the first and River didn’t dominate as completely, but Boca could still only create very little as the hosts crowded them off the ball as soon as they got it, and then kept it for large spells of play, often deep in Boca’s own half. Matías Abelaires, another attacking player, was Passarella’s answer to a short spell of Boca pressure in the middle of the second half, and he had a header ruled out by a marginal but correct offside call shortly after coming on. The late substitutions were clearly designed to give the players coming off an ovation as much as to kill off time towards the end. That Ariel Ortega was one of those given a standing send off was a poignant moment for River fans who’ve willed him to overcome his problems of recent years. That the other player thus applauded, Diego Buonanotte (who was kicked and fouled throughout), has been in the first team squad a matter of weeks, will give River hope for the future.
If River can now sort out their away form, and if other results go their way, they might just be back in the title race. But should Independiente take advantage of the three points Boca have lost today, fans of Los Millonarios will still have something to celebrate.
No linkable-to videos of the game or goals are yet available, but rest assured that they will be tomorrow, along with the usual scores rundown and all the goals from the other matches in Argentina this weekend.
Photo nicked from ole.clarin.com