River Plate Beat Rivals Boca Juniors in Second Leg of Copa Libertadores Final

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 09: Lucas Pratto of River Plate celebrates with his team-mates after scoring his team's first goal during the second leg of the final match of Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores 2018 between Boca Juniors and River Plate at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 09, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images,)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

River Plate won the Copa Libertadores on Sunday thanks to a 3-1 win in the second leg after extra time. The aggregate score of the final was 5-3.

Dario Benedetto gave the visitors a lead in the first half, but River Plate improved after the break and Lucas Pratto tied things up. Wilmar Barrios was sent off early in extra time, and Juan Quintero gave the hosts the lead with a sensational strike. Gonzalo Martinez secured the win in the final minute. 

The first leg had finished 2-2 at Boca Juniors' La Bombonera stadium, and with no away-goal rule in place, Sunday's clash at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid was a winner-take-all contest.

While the first leg was played in a remarkable atmosphere in a packed Bombonera, the fans didn't show up in force at the Bernabeu:

The start of the match reflected that. In Argentina, both teams came out firing, but on Sunday things were cagey early, with plenty of physical play but little in terms of chances.

Jonathan Maidana nearly put the ball in his own net after a sharp cross, and the resulting corner saw Pablo Perez blast a volley right at the goalkeeper. River Plate threatened through Nacho Fernandez, who fired over.

Despite the aggressive play and many flying tackles, it took until the 27th minute for the first booking to arrive. As shared by sportswriter Peter Coates, Leonardo Ponzio appeared to get the ball, with his team-mates arguing it was not a foul at all and the opponents furious he wasn't sent off:

The best football of the half was reserved for the end, with River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani forced into a punching save that kicked off a counter-attack. Martinez ended up with space to shoot, but he couldn't keep his effort on target.

Shortly after, the visitors took the lead through Benedetto, the hero of the semi-finals who also scored in the first leg. He came face-to-face with Armani and produced a calm finish, but the pass from Nahitan Nandez really made the goal happen.

Sportswriter Ryan Baldi loved it:

At half-time, Coates noted the match hadn't been a good one until Benedetto's brilliant goal:

River Plate had to force the issue and pushed up the pitch early in the second half, with Maidana heading over the bar after just minutes. Fernandez also went close, but his curling shot went wide.

Scorer Benedetto was replaced by Ramon Abila just after the hour mark, and shortly after, River pulled level. Pratto fired home from inside the box after a wonderful passing move.

Richard Martin appreciated the fantastic goal:

Boca went back in search of the lead and even earned an indirect free-kick inside the box at one point, while Pratto wanted a late penalty for his side as he got bumped out of the way on a cross. 

Neither team found any other openings to shoot on goal in regulation, however, setting up extra time. 

Sportswriter Rupert Fryer couldn't help himself:

Extra time started with plenty of drama as Barrios was sent off for a second bookable offence. Robbie Dunne of AS didn't think he could complain:

The dismissal took away some of the intensity, with Boca Juniors sitting back and adopting a defensive approach. 

River Plate had to be patient but found the breakthrough in the second period, with Quintero firing home via the bar. Bleacher Report's Matt Jones was stunned:

Boca Juniors threw on Carlos Tevez in desperation but had to chase a goal with nine players, as Fernando Gago suffered an injury and the team ran out of substitutions. Leonardo Jara came agonisingly close to an unlikely equaliser, but his shot found the post.

The goal fell on the other end of the pitch, as Boca sent everyone up for a corner and Martinez raced the pitch for the empty-netter on the counter.

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