Credit: Carlos Figueroa Rojas / Media supported by Wikimedia Chile.
The Copa Libertadores is perfect viewing for those who are looking for a rawer Champions League like competition. Both Semi-Final first legs that took place on Tuesday contained the perfect balance of familiar faces and breakthrough stars looking to set the world alight.
River Plate 0-3 Palmeiras
This game was a fast-paced, action-pack and end-to-end affair. River Plate went in as favourites to win the whole competition and in the first 20 minutes it was easy to see why.
River were dominating the midfield with 23-year-old Nicolas de la Cruz, who was previously linked with Manchester City, acting as their main creative outlet. Five minutes into the game and Los Millonarios had a golden opportunity to go in front. Striker Matias Suarez managed to dribble his way into the box from the left wing, before putting in a ball along the six yard box which was met by attacking midfielder Carrascal. The Colombian only managed to clip the ball straight into the chest of Palmeiras goalkeeper Weverton.
This early shock seemed to act as a wake up call for the Brazilian team and the midfield duo of Danilo and De Paula, with a combined age of 40, started smothering any attacking threat coming from the centre of the park.
Palmeiras’ ability to absorb the pressure coming from River Plate allowed them to hit the Argentinian side on the counter attack. The Verdao’s quick transition from defence to attack led to them opening the scoring after a bizarre mistake from the River keeper. A hopeful cross in from wing-back Menino resulted in goalkeeper Armani slide tackling the ball away from his centre back into the path of forward Rony. The striker managed to get a shot off from just outside the 18-yard-box which was helped past the fingertips of the goalkeeper with a deflection.
Even though they were now a goal down River Plate continued to dominate possession. The ball would be constantly passed from side-to-side looking for a gap in the defensive unit of Palmeiras. River’s best chance came from Ignacio Fernandez who decided to try his luck from a free kick which was 35 yards from goal. The winger managed to both get the ball to dip quickly and swerve away from the diving goalkeeper, however, his powerful strike would just skim off the top of the cross bar.
Palmeiras were again allowing their opponents to push higher up the pitch. A quick counter attack was triggered by a pass into the feet of former AC Milan striker Luiz Adriano by 19-year-old Danilo. The forward managed to turn his marker on the halfway line and break away with the two River centre backs in pursuit. When the Brazilian international came face to face with the Argentinian international he cooly slotted it between the keepers legs.
The competition favourites now began to show their frustrations especially after a silky touch from Menino, which saw him take the ball down with his right foot crossed behind his left leg, cause outrage amongst the River Plate defenders. It seemed as though Carrascal wasn’t going to let the wing-back show of skill go unpunished. After Menino almost burst past the midfielder, the Colombian swung a kick at the back of the Palmeiras player. Referee Leodan Gonzalez had no choice but to send midfielder to the changing room resigning his side to defeat.
The resulting free kick saw a well worked routine, which looked similar to a Borussia Dortmund goal that did the rounds on twitter a few years back, take place. Palmeiras’ Gustavo Scarpa looked as though he failed to dummy the set piece before doubling back and whipping a cross in. Left wing-back Matias Vina rose above the sleeping River defence and flicked it into the bottom left corner.
Palmeiras will be delighted with their win especially considering that away goals count in this competition. With the next leg taking place at home in Brazil they have left River Plate a mountain to climb if they want to add a fifth Copa Libertadores to their trophy haul.
Boca Juniors 0-0 Santos
Where as the previous match was full of action and entertainment this game was cagey and dull. However, there was an emotional aspect to this tie with flags and banners donning the face of Diego Armando covering almost every inch of the stadium.
This game surprisingly lacked the flair and energy that people have come to expect from both teams. The first major chance came for Boca after former Manchester City and Manchester United striker Carlos Tevez threaded a ball through for Sebastian Villa who struck the cross bar with a left footed shot over the goalkeeper.
At the helm of the Santos attack was 18-year-old academy graduate Kaio Jorge who is looking to follow in the footsteps of Pele and Neymar. The youngster played a key role in setting up Santos’ only real chance of the first half by passing the ball to the winger, Marinho, who decide to take a shot from range which failed to challenge the Boca keeper, Andrada.
Both teams played as though they were fearful of pushing forward in case they were caught by a ball over the top. Neither side had the ability to find the final ball which would release their attackers into a prominent goal-scoring position.
The Buenos Aires club looked as though they had been reinvigorated during the break, it took a minute after the restart for them to create their best chance of the game. Winger Eduardo Salvio tried cutting in from the right then with a quick step-over he changed direction and tried to squeeze the ball in at the front post, however the keeper was already there to deal with it.
Carlos Tevez looked to wind back the years by driving towards the box from just past the halfway line. The Argentinian took on two defenders before cutting on to his right foot and attempting a curling effort that went wide of the post.
The biggest talking point of the match came 15 minutes before the final whistle when Marinho latched onto a through ball played by midfielder Alison. Boca Juniors centre back Izquierdoz looked to shield the ball but he ended up clumsily tripping the winger in the box and a penalty was given. A quick look at VAR seemed to suggest the Santos player maybe took a tumble too many when he went down and the decision was overturned.
Even though the winger did seem to make the most of the contact there still was a visible trip in the box and the penalty more than likely should have stood.
Although this game was not a thriller by any means, it does set up a tasty second leg in Brazil. Boca Juniors are desperate to win this years competition in the memory of not only a club icon but a world football legend, Diego Maradona. Santos on the other hand are desperate to win silverware this year after finishing second in the league.
Both second legs take place on Wednesday with Palmeiras vs River Plate kicking off at 00:30 and Santos vs Boca Juniors at 22:15. If you are a football fan looking for something different there is nothing I would recommend more than watching four of the biggest clubs in the world battle it out for the biggest prize in South American football.