In the first leg of the Copa Libertadores quarter-final, Boca Juniors played host to Mexican side Atlas in Vélez Sársfield’s stadium as a result of the ban CONMEBOL imposed on La Bombonera following an incident at the end of their previous home match against Cruzeiro. The change of scene didn’t suit Boca one bit; having beaten these opponents 3-0 at home during the group stage, they didn’t impress so much this time, and an entertaining match saw the Mexicans get a late equaliser to take two goals back to Guadalajara for the return next week. Step this way for the first-leg match report, and the goal video…
Against expectations Atlas, managed by Miguel Brindisi, came out at their hosts from the start and caused Boca one or two problems early on, and Omar Flores Serrano headed them into the lead after only six minutes to worry the hope fans at the José Amalfitani. With the mystique of La Bombonera removed, the Xeneize had to adjust to facing opponents who seeemed far less intimidated than they’re accustomed to when playing foreign sides at home. Boca went searching for a quick equaliser, with more ugency than intelligence in spite of the return of Juan Román Riquelme – rested for the weekend defeat to Estudiantes in the league. Riquelme blazed over from a free kick, Rodrigo Palacio turned a shot wide in the box. Martín Palermo missed an attempted backheel flick, but Boca came across the equaliser with nine minutes to go before the break. Riquelme released Palacio in the box, and the young forward’s attempted cross to strike partner Palermo was turned away from its target by Atlas defender Hugo Ayala – and into his own net.
The second half was a little more end-to-end, with Atlas leaving behind the counter-attacking game of the first half, but only managing to go close on a couple of ocassions. A fast-paced 45 minutes saw Riquelme by and large stuck in the middle, not looking entirely comfortable with the physical pace of the match – presumably not yet fully fit again after the injury he suffered last week. Two crucial changes for Boca arrived around the hour: Alvaro González replaced Jonathan Maidana to aid the search for a goal with a bit of pace down the flanks, whilst Cristian Chávez came on for Fabián Vargas to add some creativity in the middle.
The tweaks worked, and before long both strikers had good opportunities – although both saw the ‘keeper get the better of them. Luciano Monzón, charging forward from right-back, hit the crossbar after Riquelme had spotted him steaming in unmarked, but minutes later Boca took the lead, a cross in from the left headed down by Palermo for defender Julio César Cáceres to stab home his first goal for his new club with fifteen minutes left. In the remaining quarter-of-an-hour, Riquelme hit the post after the ball had been laid on for him by a combination of Palacio’s running and a deflection off a defender, and Palermo missed another chance to put the game beyond doubt.
Boca’s profligacy was punished in the 88th minute, when Jorge Torres beat Mauricio Caranta in an aerial challenge from a short corner to send a powerful header into the net and make it 2-2. With the final touch of the game, Riquelme shot into the wall from a free kick just outside the box. It summed up Boca’s night: it looked a dangerous chance, but the ultimate result was disappointing. With two away goals, Atlas will fancy their chances in the return. If Boca are to advance, they’ll be doing it without the help of their famous stadium.
Boca Juniors 2 – 2 Atlas