Copa Libertadores holders Boca Juniors crashed out of the tournament at the semi-final stage on Wednesday night after a thrilling second half in the Maracanã which saw them take the lead through Martín Palermo before hosts Fluminense hit back with a three-goal blitz in the closing half hour. Fluminense, who’ve never got this far in the tournament before, will play another lot of first-time finalists for the trophy, after LDU Quito got past Club América of Mexico on away goals in the other semi on Tuesday. The Flu-Boca match report, and goal video, are right here.
The first half was one of few real chances at either end, although Boca had far the better of the play. Refusing to bow to the history of the Maracanã, they took the game to Fluminense from the off, and in response all the hosts could offer was a few limp long-balls from the defence which occasionally fell kindly for the attackers when they reached the Boca half of the pitch.
Flu’s first real chance came after around quarter-of-an-hour of the opening period when Washington controlled a Gabriel centre in the centre of the penalty box and hacked it just over the crossbar. In response, for all their dominance of possession and what would (were this a rugby match) be deemed ‘territory’, Boca could only muster a few crosses from deep, either headed into home goalkeeper Fernando Henrique’s grateful hands, or dealt with easily by the Brazilian defence. For Boca’s part, Fabián Vargas and, in particular, Sebastián Battaglia were all but unpassable in midfield. With ten minutes of the half left, Juan Román Riquelme had a free kick in a perfect position for him, but after taking an age to decide what to do with it, the curved it high and out for a goal kick.
Shortly before the break, Boca had a corner which Martín Palermo rose to meet with power and send the ball towards the bottom far corner of the goal, but Fernando Henrique made the most eyecatching of a few decent saves in the half to deny him and keep the score at 0-0 on the night. Shortly afterwards, Gabriel, at the other end, cut in from the right and flicked the ball over an opponent’s head before volleying it on for Cicero in the right-hand channel of the Boca box. The attacker might have cut the ball back across the box, but instead shot for the near post and deservedly missed. Flu might have taken more, but they wouldn’t really have deserved it. They went in at the break looking like a side who knew 0-0 would see them through, but not entirely sure how they’d got this far and were still level.
In the second period, Flu started better, working the ball forward in the first minute, but took a while to get going and were stunned when Palermo opened the scoring, squeezing a header underneath Fernando Henrique from a Jesús Dátolo cross. Boca celebrated, aware that they had a goal that, on the balance of play up to that point, should have been decisive.
But from that point forth, Fluminense were a totally different team. They attacked with renewed vigour and striker Dodô was sent on in place of holding midfielder Ygor to give their counters more focus. Within minutes, they were level again, from a spectacular curling free kick twenty-five yards out, clean into the top corner, scored not by Thiago Neves, the usual free kick specialist for the carioca side, but Washington. With the score at 1-1 on the night, Flu were heading through on away goals, but rather than revert to the form they’d shown in the first half, they pushed on from there.
There was time for a couple of attacks and counter-attacks in what had suddenly, in the space of the six minutes between Palermo’s and Washington’s goals, become a fantastically open match. And then in the 26th minute, nine minutes after drawing level, Flu took the lead. A quick ball out from the back to the left reached Darío Conca, and the former River Plate man had the better of the Boca backline for pace. As he advanced on goal he hit a cross for the onrushing Dodô which Hugo Ibarra, racing back at right-back to try and cover him, deflected past Migliore into the Boca net.
Boca attacked from there, Fernando Henrique earning his keep for the night with a few fine saves, most notably a Gordon Banks-like effort to deny Martín Palermo at the near post from a corner as the match ticked towards stoppage time with the home crowd willing the hands of the clock to move just a little faster. Flu, though, weren’t in the mood to sit back any longer, and had a couple of chances of their own before substitute Dodô put it beyond all doubt with a third for the hosts late on in stoppage time.
3-1 on the night, 5-3 to Flu on aggregate, and they advance to the final of the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history. They’ll be meeting LDU Quito, who got to the knockout round from the same group and are also playing in their first ever Copa final. Boca, the outgoing champions, will have to wait until 2009 to get another shot at equalling Independiente’s record seven Copas.
Fluminense 3 – 1 Boca Juniors