Tonight we saw the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and Corinthians. As ever, the competition this season has been another drama filled spectacle, swinging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are some of the most memorable moments of the knock-out rounds so far.
Universidad de Chile and Santos Mesmerize us in the last 16:
Chilean giants Universidad de Chile and last season’s Copa Libertadores winners Santos both struggled badly in the first leg away ties of the last 16. Both teams were playing away at clubs in the highest capital cities of the world: Bolivar in La Paz (Bolivia) and Deportivo Quito in Quito (Ecuador). Altitude is often a major factor in these Copa Libertadores ties.
Deportivo Quito thrashed Universidad de Chile (sometimes abbreviated to La U) 4-1 in Ecuador. The return leg in Santiago needed a heroic performance from the Chileans to have any chance of going through. They did not disappoint and in an absolutely breathtaking 90 minute display of movement and one touch passing La U hammered Deportivo Quito 6-0. Universidad progressed through the round 7-4 on aggregate:
Likewise, Santos struggled in Bolivar due to the high altitude. Although Santos are known as a very free-flowing and exciting team to watch, often in the away legs of the Copa Libertadores they adopt a more negative approach. Shocks at high altitude no longer surprise followers of South American football and Bolivar finished the first leg with a 2-1 home lead. Santos turned the second leg in Brazil into one of the most one-sided games in Copa Libertadores history, the score ending 8-0 to the Brazilians. One more goal and they would’ve beaten the club’s highest win record in the tournament which dates back to Pele’s Santos defeating Paraguayans Cerro Porteno 9-1 in 1962:
Late Drama in the Quarter-Finals:
Every single game of the last eight turned out to be very cagey affairs. Santos met Velez Sarsfield of Argentina. Velez completely nullified the influence of Neymar and made Santos look very ordinary. The way Velez dealt with Neymar is something he should become familiar with once he decides to move to Europe. Clubs will not hesitate to stop him by any means necessary. After two 1-0 home wins, the tie was settled on penalties and Santos went through to the semi-finals.
The all-Brazilian fixture between Corinthians and Vasco da Gama was just as tight. In the dying minutes of the second leg it looked as though it was going to end 0-0 on aggregate. That was until Paulinho rose above the crowd to head home an 89th minute winner for Corinthians to knock Vasco da Gama out. In the video below you can see the stadium erupt when Paulinho’s header hits the net:
Boca Juniors are not ones to miss out on the action and it took a 91st minute Tanque Silva goal against Fluminese to prevent the game going to penalties and secure Boca Juniors’ entry in to the semi-finals.
Boca Juniors came up against Universidad de Chile in the semi-finals. A clash of ideals. Boca were just too strong for La U though and won the first leg at home 2-0 in comfortable fashion. Silva opened the scoring with this lovely finish:
La U had been devastating at home the whole tournament and everyone expected Boca Juniors to have a very rough ride in Santiago. Boca set up a defensive fortress in front of their goal that La U could not penetrate. The Chileans were also being caught badly on the counter and it was the Argentinians who were creating the best chances of the game with Pablo Mouche missing three one-on-ones and Riquelme rattling the bar with a delightful first time volley. Boca Juniors rode out the tie 0-0 with very few complications.
The other semi-final was another all Brazilian encounter, Santos against Corinthians. A malfunction with the floodlights interrupted the match for about thirty minutes in the second half. Corinthians won the first leg 0-1 away from home thanks to a moment of sheer brilliance from Emerson Sheik:
The return leg at the home of Corinthians was another closely fought battle. Up until this point in the tournament Corinthians had only conceded two goals in eleven games. Away from home Santos had to attack the tightest defence in the competition. Lady Luck smiled upon Santos when Borges’ effort bounced off the post and rebounded off Neymar into the net. Corinthians quickly drew level though with Danilo volleying home at the back post unmarked after being picked out from a free-kick delivery. Santos did not have the cutting edge to score again. The game ended 1-1 and Corinthians had earned their spot in the final against Boca Juniors by winning 2-1 on aggregate.
The Final So Far:
Corinthians have never before in their history reached the final of the Copa Libertadores and remain by far the biggest side in South America to never lift the trophy.
Boca’s history is steeped in the tradition of success in the Copa Libertadores and in the nighties alone they won the trophy four times.
Tonight, Boca Juniors hosted the first leg and after an intensely disciplined display by Corinthians defensively, the deadlock was finally broken by Facunda Roncaglia as the ball very fortunately fell into his path after hitting the post. Corinthians reacted by making changes and it was one of the subs Romarinho who made an instant impact by scoring after only being on the pitch for two minutes. He was fed through by a delightfully weighted pass from Emerson and Romarinho exquisitely lifted the ball over the on-rushing Orion and into Boca’s net.
The first leg finished 1-1. The return leg in Sao Paulo will take place next Thursday night with kick-off at 01:50 GMT.