It’s been four years since Boca Juniors last beat River Plate in La Bombonera, during which time their sole consolation has been that River haven’t won any trophies and they have done. On Sunday, though, with River arriving in La Boca on top of the league table, the run came to an end thanks to a 14th-minute header from Sebastián Battaglia, and some poor finishing from River’s forwards. It wasn’t all good news for Boca though; two bad injuries, one to playmaker Juan Román Riquelme, will seriously affect their preparations for the second leg of their Copa Libertadores clash with Cruzeiro in the coming week.
Those blows were tempered, though, by a solid win on a day of glorious sunshine in Buenos Aires. As in the last super to be played in La Bombonera, this time last year, Boca dominated the early exchanges and River looked all at sea for much of the first half. Aware at kick off, thanks to Estudiantes’ loss to Argentinos on Saturday evening, that a win would catapult them back into the fight for the Clausura title, Boca came out searching for the way to River’s goal, and the visitors appeared happy to let them do so. Diego Simeone’s men were well-organised in defence, just for a change, and looked intent to play the first half, at least, on the counter. That newfound solidity at the back made it all the more ironic that Boca scored from a corner that had been given to them by Juan Pablo Carrizo, River’s goalkeeper. Rodrigo Palacio raced into the box at an angle and Carrizo did well to push the ball behind.
The corner was swung over by Riquelme and Battaglia beat Leonardo Ponzio to the header and put it past Carrizo, who didn’t stand a chance with it. Simeone’s men, clearly not having planned for an early goal (in spite of the one minute it took Pablo Ledesma to put Boca ahead in the same fixture last year), were rocked. Boca, meanwhile, were calmed by the lead and started knocking the ball around in a slightly more controlled fashion than the way they’d begun the match (which, for all its effectiveness, seemed at times to consist of little more than putting their heads down and running into River’s area). River meanwhile, obliged to go looking for the ball, didn’t seem to sure of how to go about it; Nicolás Sánchez looked like he wanted to take the ball round his own team-mates, such was his desire to go it alone, whilst Ariel Ortega, newly returned from a spell on the sidelines, was finding it difficult to influence the game in his usual fashion. The match continued in this manner, with the ball never in too much danger of making its way into either goal, for the remainder of the half, although River improved a little bit towards the break.
The second half, when it eventually began after a predictably elongated interval, was a different story. River attacked relentlessly with the hosts only able to fashion the occasional breakaway as Simeone had clearly put a rocket up his team’s collective backside. Nico Sánchez was replaced by Augusto Fernández and Ponzio moved to right back, and with more width came more pressure from River. Boca had their moments – one particularly memorable one from Riquelme almost put Palermo in on goal, but Tuzzio managed a fantastic last-ditch block – but it was all River. And yet somehow, Mauricio Caranta was never pressured unduly – poor finishing cost the visitors.
The best chance of the half fell, after a flowing counter from River, to Sebastián Abreu, who’d replaced Diego Buonanotte midway through the half, but whose towering header sailed narrowly over Caranta’s goal. Towards the end Riquelme had to retire with what looked like cramp – no doubt Boca will risk flying him to Belo Horizonte for the Cruzeiro match – and Claudio Morel Rodríguez, who went down several yards away from the play, looked like he’d twisted his knee. If so, it’ll aggravate an old injury he thought he’d got over, and that might prove a big blow for Boca’s rearguard in the coming weeks.
For the moment, though, the Xeneize can celebrate a league win over their great rivals for the first time in a long time. Estudiantes’ loss yesterday coupled with this result means the top of the table is looking congested – River and Estudiantes both have 27 points, Boca move onto 26 and San Lorenzo, who play Gimnasia in La Plata in a couple of hours, could yet make it even busier. There’s a long way to go yet, but Boca have finally won back the ‘championship-within-a-championship’.
For the goal from this match, and the rest of the weekend in Argentina, check back on Monday night.