In the end it was the most nail-biting of finishes, as Tigre tried and tried to break down Boca’s resistance, but the most incredible of titles wasn’t to be. Boca lost the match, 1-0, to a Leandro Lázzaro header midway through the second half – but with all three sides tied on three points in the three-team mini-league, they take the 2008 Torneo Apertura title on goal difference.
The first half was tense as Tigre, who knew they had to win by two clear goals in order to claim the title, were intimidated by the size of their task. Boca came towards them looking to dominate possession and push their opponents back, and by and large, the plan worked. Tigre’s substitute goalkeeper, Luis Ardente, was forced into a couple of saves, one in particular after twenty minutes when he got down well to a powerfully-struck shot from Luciano Figueroa.
Tigre, though, pressed well defensively and, looking for Martín Morel swiftly when they got the ball, they weren’t moving forward without some menace of their own. They largely played an aerial game, but Javier García, Boca’s own goalkeeper – also a stand-in, albeit one who’s had a bit of a run in the team of late – was doing as well as his opposite number in picking out the centres sent towards the head of Leandro Lázzaro.
At half time, all square on the night, Boca were the better side in the match, and on course for the title. But they hadn’t managed to find the goal that would kill off Tigre’s resolve, and went to the dressing room knowing that their opponents would surely throw more forward in the second half.
At half time Jesús Dátolo, injured, was replaced by Boca manager Carlos Ischia, and Alvaro González took his place. Boca should have had a more patient approach and a harder midfield to break down as a result of that, but Tigre began to play with more penetration even as Rodrigo Palacio, replacing Figueroa in the 55th minute, gave Boca more pace up front.
The goal arrived halfway through the second half, and when it came Tigre had earned it. Matías Giménez sent over a high cross from the left which Leandro Lázzaro rose to head in with Boca ‘keeper García standing flat-footed and looking an utter tool. Suddenly, although they were still on course to claim the title, Boca would lose their grip on the trophy if they conceded another.
Ischia could hardly have filled his defence with confidence under such circumstances, when he immediately replaced García with Josué Ayala, who thus made his first-team debut for Boca. With Morel disappearing for Tigre, they failed to take advantage of Boca’s most nervous period of the match. There were flurries – the match opened out, in the last fifteen minutes or so, into a thrilling end-to-end affair which saw Tigre goalkeeper Ardente make another decent save from a Gracián shot one moment, and start a counter which led into Boca’s area the next.
In the end, though, eventually Boca were triumphant. Even without Riquelme, and with goalkeeping uncertainty continuing actually during the match, Boca were able to do enough to claim another title – their 23rd of the professional era, and their 29th overall in Argentine league history. Another star on the badge for the 2009 shirt, and a hard-fought and well-earned trophy to end a fascinating Torneo Apertura and give their fans a very pleasant early Christmas present.
A sidenote, to end the most successful campaign in their history: Tigre beat the eventual winners twice in this Apertura, and finish as runners-up. And they still don’t qualify for the Copa Libertadores. Sort it out, AFA!
Boca Juniors 0 – 1 Tigre (Primera División A Torneo Apertura 2008, title playoff):
A look back on the 2008 Torneo Apertura will be up on the site by the weekend. But as most readers will be aware, it’s Christmas this week, so you’ll forgive me, I’m sure, if it’s not quite as prompt as it would otherwise have been.