About 50 million people in Brazil and Argentina will be glued to TV sets tonight to support traditional Boca Juniors or newcomer Corinthians in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final – the South American equivalent to the Champions League. The other people will also be watching the match at the mythical La Bombonera stadium, in Buenos Aires, basically to cheer against their bitter and widely popular local rivals. One of them is likely to have a faceoff with Chelsea for the Fifa Club World Club on December 16th, in Japan.
If Boca wins they will become the greatest Copa Libertadores champions ever, with seven trophies, alongside Independiente - a fading local force. To Corinthians, the second most popular in Brazil and rich enough to make 40-million-pound offers on Carlos Tévez, it would be the first one. The away goal criteria is out for the final matches and there is a promise of a stiff battle between the two until next Wednesday at Pacaembu stadium, in São Paulo – Corinthians earned that right for having the best record in this year’s tournament.
Due to this confrontation, Boca used reserves in the Argentinian championship and lost the title last weekend to Arsenal de Sarandí.
For Juan Román Riquelme, a true representative of the Argentinian playmaker creativity, it might be a farewell from big finals. At 34, he was the maestro of the Boca campaign, taking down stiff opposition such as Universidad de Chile (nicknamed “the South-American Barça”) and Brazil’s Fluminense. Despite a quarrel with coach Julio Cesar Falcioni, he managed to give intelligence to a tough midfield, composed by him, former Lazio’s Cristian Ledesma and two defenders who might decide the game tonight: Leandro Somoza and Walter Erviti.
Not these last two are that brilliant. But they will fight for ground with Corinthians’ two most impressive players in the Copa Libertadores: 28-year-old watchdog Ralf and highly skilled Paulinho. They aren’t responsible for the intelligence in the team – those would be veterans Danilo and Alex. Even so, the strengths in this squad lie on European style defence set by coach Tite. Corinthians are unbeaten and conceded only three goals in 12 matches. They took down defending champions Santos, despite Neymar, and Brazilian league runner-ups Vasco.
All the tickets are sold out for both matches – every visiting team will get 2,450 of them. Even so, flocks of Brazilians are arriving at Ezeiza airport and Argentinians are expected to do the same at Cumbica airport next week. Media in both countries resist to point out a favourite. Due to this Copa Libertadores confrontation, Boca used reserves in the Argentinian championship and lost the title last weekend to Arsenal de Sarandí. Corinthians did the same and is among the last ones in the national tournament after six matches. Their focus is more than clear.
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