Boca Juniors Flatten River Plate in Summer Superclasico
Argentina's decision to play two short tournaments a year rather than one 38-game season, as is the case in Europe, certainly has its detractors, but there is one aspect that makes Argentina's current set-up even better: the summer tournament.
Each summer (winter for those of us on the other side of the equator), Argentina's biggest clubs descend on the city of Mar del Plata, Argentina's biggest beach season destination, to take part in summer tournaments. Although many big sides make the trip, the unquestioned headline event is the Superclasico between River Plate and Boca Juniors, Argentina's two most popular teams.
With 20,000 fans from each team filling the Estadio Jose Maria Minella, which was a ground used at the 1978 FIFA World Cup, last night was a spectacle not seen in many other parts of the world. Thankfully both sets of supporters not only made the atmosphere electric, but there were no incidents of violence which have plagued the Superclasico when it is played in Buenos Aires.
On the pitch, Boca's new coach Julio Cesar Falcioni lined up a very defensive team set to strangle the match early on, and after youngster Nicolas Colazo blasted a shot into the top corner following a neat pass from the evergreen Martin Palermo, it was always going to be difficult for River to come back.
Boca then doubled its margin thanks to Palermo, whose angled header beat Juan Pablo Carrizo in the River goal to give los Xeneizes a comfortable halftime lead.
The second half saw River step up the initiative as Boca sat back in its own area and needed to thank goalkeeper Javier Garcia for keeping them in the match.
The 23-year-old shotstopper was imperious between the sticks, making 12 saves on the night, the majority of which were top class.
Moments into the second half, River's two teenage sensations, Manuel Lanzini and Erik Lamela, played a quick one-two, which put Lanzini clear on goal. His low shot was miraculously saved by Garcia at the near post.
Garcia then had to be at his best to twice deny Lamela from dangerous free kicks with sprawling saves.
The Under 20 World Cup winner from 2007 saved his best for last, when eight minutes from the end, he stopped Jonathan Maidana's header from point blank range, securing the clean sheet and victory for Boca.
Although the match was technically a friendly, on the field it was played with the heart and intensity of any Superclasico. Luckily for River, the match only counts for bragging rights and not for points in the standings.
Boca will use this as a starting block with another new coach in charge who will stress defensive solidity with having midfielders Diego Rivero, Leandro Somoza and Sebastian Battaglia protect the back four. Legendary Martin Palermo, at 37, continues to be the fulcrum of the side while playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme is racing to be fit by the start of the season.
River finished the Apertura in fine form, but yesterday the team looked a bit out of sync, although they still could have won had it not been for Garcia's phenomenal play in goal.
After centerbacks Adalberto Roman, Jonathan Maidana and Alexis Ferrero ended last season in such fantastic form, it was surprising to see them look lost at times Saturday night, but there is certainly the optimism that they can turn the tables before the Clausura begins.
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