As bad luck would have it, two matches coincide today, neither of which should be missed. In Madrid at the gleaming new Wanda Metropolitano is the top-of-the-table clash between Atlético and Barcelona in the strongest league in the world. In Buenos Aires, all is open for the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River and Boca, after the first leg finished 2-2.
And so lies the dilemma: on the one hand, the glamour and sophistication of wealthier European football, a receptacle for the best players in the world; on the other, the historic and mouth-watering flavour of the Buenos Aires derby, the rivalry between two neighbourhoods, a contest with more than a century of legend.
Well if I have to choose, of course I’ll choose the Metropolitano, which has its own bit of Argentinean flavour, as two Argentines steer the ships that face each other tonight: Simeone and Messi. This is the first time the two sides meet since the leaked WhatsApp audio message in June, in which a furious Simeone criticized Argentina and questioned the role of Messi, even hinting that he would choose Cristiano Ronaldo over the Barcelona talisman for “an average team.” (Later Simeone tried to rectify the situation).
Now the two will cross paths in a match that I hope will be a fierce contest, between a Barca side that had lost security in their game but with Messi back can now expect everything, and an Atléti that has bounced back from a poor start to the season and lives with the ongoing debate on whether to sit back and be patient or dare to step forward and control matches.
The more appealing fixture, yes, but how do you lose sight of proceedings at El Monumental? The 2-2 draw in the first leg (and with no away goals ruling applied) means this fixture is a final in its pure state, with the continental title awaiting the winner. The thrilling first leg offered us a beautiful image of the two sides, and enlarged the image of Argentine football and the Copa Libertadores around the world. There is a lot less money involved – Messi’s salary alone exceeds the budget of either club – but it is a game with a truly unique history that gives it a special flavour.