River Plate defeated its historic rival Boca Juniors by 2-0 yesterday in the final of the Supercopa Argentina, in what was the first official decisive match between the two largest teams in the country in 42 years.
The “Millonarios‘” victory confirms two things: that River coach Marcelo Gallardo seems to have cracked the code to win knockout rounds against its classic rival, given the fact that River won in the three opportunities in which they clashed since he took over the team, in May 2014.
And that the common saying about the Superclásico being a game that is isolated from both teams’ junctures was true yet once again, taking into account that Boca is currently first in the Argentine league, smooth sailing towards a new championship, while River is unable to find its way and suffers in the 18th position, 23 points away from its eternal rival.
The championship could not have come at a better time for River. The team from Nuñez was going through the lowest point of the entire Gallardo era. Ever since its incredible loss at the Copa Libertadores semi-final against Lanús last year, the team’s decline seemed endless.
Until yesterday, when the goals from “Pity” Martínez and Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco, as well as the saves from keeper Franco Armani turned River’s reality around.
The game itself was a typical Superclásico, full of friction. Nerves abounded and good plays were scarce. Boca dominated the first part of the game by a slim margin: it controlled the ball, but was unable to imperil the goal guarded by Armani.
However, River hit first when referee Patricio Lousteau determined that a tackle from Edwin Cardona on Ignacio “Nacho” – yes, his nickname is Nacho too, not a lot of creativity among River players – Fernández inside the box was a penalty. “Pity” Martínez took over the responsibility and did not fail.
The game developed during the rest of the first half in a way that favored River. Boca kept controlling the ball, but lacked ideas to tear down the defensive wall its opponent had set up.
Halftime seemed to renovate the “Xeneizes‘” energies, as they took the pitch determined to tie the score. However, time and time again they faced the security provided by Franco Armani, who blocked everything that came his way.
The keeper was, to a great extent, guilty that another typical saying in the footballing world became true during the game: that teams who fail to finish their chances suffer their inefficiency later in the game (“los goles que no se hacen en un arco después se hacen en el otro“). Said and done, River landed the knockout punch on the 25th minute of the second half, with a perfectly executed counter-attack.
“Nacho” Fernández ran through practically the entire pitch, passed it on to “Pity” Martínez who then beat a rival and crossed a ball that “Nacho” Scocco – who had entered the pitch not long ago – took care of.
The match could have ended there and no one would have noticed. The remaining 20 minutes were almost unnecessary, as it was clear there was no way Boca could turn things around. Same as in the Copa Sudamericana 2014 and Copa Libertadores 2015, River beat its eternal rival in a knockout round.
But this one must be especially gratifying, taking its present into account. For a team that seems permeable to the psychological effects – both positive and negative – of important matches, this trophy could mark the point where River begins to emerge from its ashes. Any chances of winning the Superliga being completely ruled out, it will focus all its artillery on the Copa Libertadores.
As for Boca, its poor performance – especially the one put on by Carlos Tevez – means that it will now take its turn at facing an adverse news cycle. Surely it won’t last long, however. Barring a catastrophe, it will win the Superliga, and it is still alive in the continental tournament.
But for now, the country is painted red and white.