Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Livin' The Vida Boca

Later today (if you're in Japan) or tomorrow morning (if you're in Europe), the first of the giants finally take their bow in the FIFA Club World Cup, and they don't come much bigger than Boca Juniors. The Argentinian giants from Buenos Aires are one of the biggest club sides in the world and, as ever, they're going to be massively difficult to beat in this competition. The Tunisians of Etoile Sportive De Sahel did exceptionally well to see off Pachuca in the quarter-finals, but this lot are a different kettle of fish altogether.

It's difficult to know where to start when discussing a club of the size and importance of Boca Juniors. Here's a quick quick recall of just some of their alumni: Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Antonio Rattin, Carlos Tevez, Kily Gonzalez, Alberto Tarantini, Claudio Caniggia, Juan Roman Riquelme, Carlos Montoya, Roberto Abbondanzieri and Juan Roman Rocha. I could go on. It's not far short of a who's who of Argentinian football. Their current team contains such luminaries as Fabian Vargas, Alvaro Gonzalez and Martin Palermo. Juan Roman Riquelme has re-signed for them and would have been playing had his signing gone through in time.

They are one of the most successful club sides in the history of world football. They've won the Copa Libertadores six times and the Copa Sudamericana three times. They've won the Argentinian championship, La Apertura, six times in the last ten years. Their blue kit with a single yellow band round the waist is one of the most famous in world football. Their stadium, La Bombonera, is one of the most distinctive in the world. No amount of European expectation can undo any of these facts. This is a big, big club. It's the club that I expect to win the World Club Cup. As with so many football rivalries, Argentinian football is fuelled by its rivalry with Brazil. In the last two years, Brazilian teams have gone from winning La Copa Libertadores to being crowned the world champions. That alone should prove to be enough of a spur to want to win this tournament.

They started relatively slowly in this year's Copa Libertadores. Beaten away by the Mexican club Toluca and the Peruvians Cienciano, they were reliant on a 7-0 thrashing of bottom club Bolivar to ensure their place in the last sixteen. In a competition that is usually far more open than its UEFA equivalent, they rode their luck on the way to the final. In the Round Of Sixteen, they beat fellow Argentinians Velez 3-0 in the first leg before making their supporters sweat, losing the return match 3-1 to squeeze through on a 4-3 aggregate score. In the Quarter-Finals they beat Club Libertad of Paraguay 3-1 on aggregate, but they were holding on by their fingernails again in the semi-finals. Clear favourites against the Columbian club Cucuta Deportivo, they lost the first leg 3-1, before launching an impressive comeback in the second leg, winning 3-0 to book a final against the Brazilian giants Gremio. One might have expected this final to be a very tough match, but Boca stunned virtually the whole of South American football by cruising to a 3-0 win in the first leg of the final in Porto Alegre, following this up with a 2-0 home win to tie up the trophy. A
very impressive performance.

It goes without saying that, presuming that they do see off Etoile Sportive de Sahel, they will have their work cut out either way in the final. Milan will, in spite of their poor start to the season, would provide any team in Europe with a stern test, and I remain convinced that no-one would want to have to effectively play an away competitive match against a team like Urawa Red Diamonds. Despite this, though, they are still the team to beat in this competition, as far as I'm concerned.

Meanwhile, here are the goals from the quarter-final match between Urawa Red Diamonds and Sepahan.


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