River Plate on Sunday battled back to beat archrivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra-time in an unforgettable and unique Copa Libertadores final second leg, played in Madrid after violence had seen the original match postponed.
Dario Benedetto put Boca ahead at the end of a bruising first half at a raucous Santiago Bernabeu that was equally split between supporters of the two teams, but witnessed barely a hint of crowd trouble.
However, River, who also came back twice in the 2-2 draw in the first leg at Boca’s Bombonera in Buenos Aires, leveled in the 68th minute through striker Lucas Pratto after a superb team move.
River, whose coach Marcelo Gallardo was banned from the sidelines, were given a huge advantage when Boca’s Colombian midfielder Wilmar Barrios was sent off in the third minute of extra-time and seized it thanks to a sizzling strike from his compatriot Juan Quintero in the 109th minute.
Gonzalo Martinez sealed the victory, 5-3 on aggregate, at the death with a tap in after Boca’s entire team had poured forward in search of an equalizer, giving River a fourth Libertadores title and denying Boca a record-equaling seventh.
“I didn’t think about it,” Quintero said of his goal. “Camilo [Mayada] passed it to me, and I looked for space and then hit it. It was a lovely goal and you have to celebrate it.”
“We were the only team out there that tried to win,” Martinez added. “We played the whole match in their half of the field.”
River’s victory means they represent South America in the FIFA Club World Cup that kicks off tomorrow in the United Arab Emirates and guarantees them bragging rights over their neighbors for many years to come.
The club were expected to fly directly to the Middle East, but striker Lucas Pratto said the players would take some time to celebrate before their first match on Tuesday next week.
“We want to enjoy this because I don’t think we’ll win another Cup against Boca like this,” Pratto said.
The game was controversially moved 10,000km from River’s Monumental to Madrid as Boca’s team bus had been ambushed before the originally scheduled game, leaving several Boca players injured from the impact of the smashed windows and from tear gas that had been fired by police.
It meant that instead of a home game with the exclusive presence of River supporters, Real Madrid’s Bernabeu was equally divided between fans of both sides, a highly unusual situation in the Copa Libertadores.
The final, the first in the 58 years of the competition to be played outside of Latin America and the first between Argentina’s two biggest clubs, provoked furious protests from both clubs, their fans and leading figures in Argentine soccer.
Luis Cesar Menotti, Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning coach, called the switch “an aberration.”
There was also a deep sense of irony at the fact a competition named in honor of the liberators of south America was played in the home of their former rulers.
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