"River or Boca: Who's worse?" was the difficult question posed by Argentine newspaper La Nacion earlier this week. In the run-up to Tuesday's delayed Superclásico, both clubs are lurching from one crisis to another, hardly suitable preparation for a game of this magnitude.
Perhaps River takes the prize for being in the worst state at the time of writing. Seven games without a win, they fired committed Mennotista Angel Cappa on Monday. The next permanent incumbent has yet to be coaxed into the hot seat, highlighting club president Daniel Passarella's lack of planning.
Americo Gallego has reportedly turned down the job and ex-Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa has a contract with the Chilean FA until January (compensation would be expensive). José Pekerman and Matías Almeyda may also be in the frame.
For the time being, reserve team coach Juan José López will be in charge for Tuesday's game. As for Boca, vice president José Beraldi has tried and failed to calm the waters by announcing that Claudio Borghi will remain as coach at least until January.
This resounding vote of confidence was given, following Borghi's earlier comments, that he was unsure whether he would even be in charge for Tuesday's Superclasico. On the positive side, Juan Roman Riquelme returned to the team after months on the sidelines in the 0-2 home reverse to Argentinos Juniors.
With the future looking increasingly uncertain for these two clubs, I've taken a look back to classic encounters from the past, and in the interest of impartiality, have picked a win a piece.
River Plate 5 - 4 Boca Juniors, National Championship, Estadio José Amalfitani (Vélez Sarsfield), 15th October 1972
Recent games between the two have been a little short on goals. This classic rained goals and ranks as the highest-scoring superclásico ever. This was the first fixture of the championship and was played on neutral territory, which maybe prevented the teams from settling in to traditional home team, away team roles.
River were 2-0 up within nine minutes with a goal from Ernesto Mastrángelo, and a powerful header from Oscar Más. We're constantly reminded by pundits and experts alike that 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline, and so it proved as Boca stormed back into the game.
After failing to convert a penalty, Hugo Curioni scored a flying volley, Ramón Ponce equalised from a textbook freekick and Boca went in at halftime 3-2 up as Ponce squeezed in a shot to wrong-foot the stationery Peréz in the goal.
The second half brought no respite for those trying to keep track of the score. Osvaldo Potente gave Boca a 4-2 lead in the 51st minute. Wounded animals can be dangerous and Gallinas (chickens) are no different—cue the River revival.
Oscar Más' goal for 4-3 stood, although Boca claimed the ball didn't cross the line. An emphatic finish by Carlos Morete restored parity in minute 62. In the final minute, Morete almost burst the Boca net as he struck the winner from close range, 5-4.
Both Oscar Más and Carlos Morete netted 26 goals (13 each) against Boca during their time at River, a tally only superseded by the iconic Angel Labruna. Amongst the victorious River team was JJ López, who'll be in charge in Tuesday's game.
River Plate 2 - 1 Boca Juniors, Copa Libertadores, Quarterfinal, First leg, El Monumental. 17th May 2000.
Boca Juniors 3 - 0 River Plate, Copa Libertadores, Quarterfinal, Second leg, La Bombonera. 24th May 2000.
Since the advent of the Copa Libertadores, River have been unable to dominate the continent in the way Boca Juniors managed to in the late 1970's, and more emphatically, earlier on this decade when they secured four titles, three of them were under coach Carlos Bianchi.
The first leg of this titanic quarterfinal occurred just three days after a league game between the two, which ended at one all. River had home advantage in the first leg and took a 14th minute lead when Oscar Córdoba, the Boca keeper, embarrassingly misjudged a deflected cross and Colombian Juan Pablo Angel finished calmly.
On 30 minutes, Boca were awarded a direct free-kick, which Riquelme planted beautifully in the top right-hand corner of Bonano's net, 1-1. Early into the second half with the Boca defence standing off him, Javier Saviola made it 2-1 to the home side with a rocket from 25 yards. Advantage River.
Much of the build-up to the second leg centred on Martin Palermo and his possible return to the team after sitting out, due to injury. Come match day he was on the subs bench, primed and ready to make an impact.
After a tense first 45, the deadlock was broken thanks to Riquelme's perfectly weighted centre. Bonano, in the River goal, hesitated and Marcelo Delgado cleverly volleyed home. Boca's Sebastian Battaglia was awarded a penalty after being fouled and then diving into the box. Riquelme converts and for the first time Boca are ahead with one foot in the semis.
Martin Palermo, who'd been brought on earlier in the half, sealed the game, and his place in Boca folklore in the final minute making it 3-0. Los Xeneizes then went on to narrowly defeat Mexican side América in the semis, and Palmeiras of Sao Paulo in the final on penalties.
Two of the main protagonists in the 2000 quarterfinal will once again be the main focal point for Boca next Tuesday—Riquelme and Palermo. Great players that they are, it maybe says more about the current state of the Argentine domestic game, and Boca in particular, that so many wish for so much from these two.
Enjoy the game.
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