Boca Juniors-River Plate; an "I was there" game like no other

It’s true that we have had two continental finals here between teams from Madrid, but it comes nowhere close, believe me. Not even had they be contested between Real Madrid and Barcelona. A Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate is another matter entirely, because no country feels football in its soul like Argentina, and therefore it is impossible to have a rivalry like this anywhere else. In Argentina, the most respected member of the pack is not whoever has the most money, the more beautiful girlfriend or the gift of the gab. The most respected is whoever plays the better football and there is no insult among kids more cutting than patadura, which roughly translates as “hopeless.” It means you can barely kick a ball. Only by becoming Pope, like Francisco, who was not much of a player himself, can one redeem oneself from that label.

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Both sides came into being, a few kilometres apart, at the beginning of the 20th century in the Buenos Aires port area of La Boca, where recently arrived immigrants attempted to start a new life in whatever way they could. One day later, River upped sticks and moved to Núñez, a more affluent neighbourhood, which led to them becoming known as Los Millonarios. The ensuing 100 years have been marked by a unique rivalry between two clubs who identify themselves via distinct social demarcations and two opposing styles of play. River tended towards refinement, which reached its zenith in the shape of all-conquering La Maquina of the 1940s. Boca have always lent themselves more to a scrapping model, even if the most famous player and fan to pull on the blue and yellow was the magician Maradona.

Boca’s support is drawn mainly from metropolitan Buenos Aires while River’s fan base is larger in the central districts. Boca have more international successes while River rule the roost in domestic titles. Every game between the sides takes on a transcendental significance and over the years assumed the title of “Clásico” - a term that was later borrowed by Madrid and Barça on the understanding that they too had reached a level to dignify the word. A British journalist who once attended a Superclasico in La Bombonera described it as “the greatest sporting experience in the world.” On Saturday, Boca and River go head-to-head in the first leg of a Copa Libertadores final. Who wouldn’t want to be able to say: “I was there!